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Health officials warn of co-infections of multiple respiratory illnesses

  • PAEZ

  • Lisa White administers doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in 2021. White, a regional public health nurse with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, said she doesn’t have strong evidence of co-infections locally. PHOTO BY ELLA ADAMS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/1/2023 4:45:27 PM
Modified: 2/1/2023 4:45:16 PM

Although public health officials aren’t seeing an abundance of cases locally, it is possible, experts say, for an individual to carry more than one respiratory illness at once.

“Co-infections have become a growing concern in recent months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Health. “And it is a concern for both adults and children who can develop simultaneous infections.”

Co-infection occurs when two or more infectious agents infect the same person at the same time, and it is particularly concerning with regard to respiratory diseases such as COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to Baystate Health. Patients who contract more than one illness are more likely to experience more severe symptoms.

“We’re seeing a lot of high fevers, respiratory issues,” commented Public Health Nurse Megan Tudryn. “A lot of them are hospitalized when they have (COVID-19 and the flu) together.”

Tudryn clarified that in the communities she covers as part of the Contact Tracing Collaborative — Greenfield, Deerfield, Montague and Sunderland — she doesn’t see co-infection often, though it does happen. She estimated about 10 people in the last 10 months have had both flu and COVID-19 simultaneously. Tudryn noted that RSV isn’t tracked as a communicable disease, and not all at-home COVID-19 tests are reported to local health departments.

“I think when people test for COVID, they just assume they just have COVID,” Tudryn said. “The only way they get tested for the flu is if they’re hospitalized and then they usually do a COVID and a flu test.”

Similarly, Franklin Regional Council of Governments Public Health Nurse Lisa White said she doesn’t have strong evidence of co-infections locally.

“We only receive the PCR or antigen COVID tests that are administered by a health care professional,” White explained. “We do not receive any notifications for RSV, and the influenza testing that occurs — it happens. We see lab results that are (also) positive for flu, but we don’t see a lot of them.”

Paez emphasized the importance of vaccination to protect against serious illness and face masks to prevent transmission. If a child is sick, parents or guardians are advised to consult with their pediatrician.

“If you feel sick with respiratory illness,” he said, “get tested, stay at home, practice proper cough etiquette and wash your hands frequently.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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