People are getting sick with mysterious illnesses and testing negative for COVID, RSV, and influenza.  Here's why.

People are getting sick with mysterious illnesses and testing negative for COVID, RSV, and influenza. Here’s why.

  • Many people are sick in the United States right now with fever, cough and sore throat.
  • Flu and cold season came early — and it took people by surprise.
  • If you have a fever, getting tested for flu and COVID can help you access antiviral treatments.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… to be a respiratory disease.

“Cold weather, indoors congregating, all good for respiratory viruses and bad for symptoms,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at a press conference on Monday. , pointing out that multiple respiratory illnesses are here early this holiday season, defying overwhelmed hospitals across the country.

Flu cases and hospitalizations have skyrocketed since Thanksgiving, but some people are complaining about testing negative for influenza, RSV, COVID, while still extremely sick.

Screenwriter Cora Harrington said on Twitter that she caught a “weird-as-hell virus” that rendered her “essentially unconscious for a few days”, calling it “one of the weirdest illnesses I’ve ever had”.

General practitioner Stéphanie de Giorgio de Great Britain said, similarly, that some sort of “non-flu, non-covid, non-RSV thing” was circulating in his workplace and “felt awfully awful”, causing a fever and sore throat.

Doctors from at least three continents say that many different viruses – not just the flu and COVID – have a real “to party” This year. People also shouldn’t discount the idea that a COVID, RSV, or flu test taken early may not necessarily come back positive. Here’s what to consider if you’re feeling feverish right now.

The winter disease season starts early

To give you an idea of ​​how many people are sick in the United States, here’s what the CDC’s weekly “flu-like illnesses” map – which tracks the number of people who present to the doctor with fever and cough or sore throat – watched as Thanksgiving week in 2021:

map - mostly green and yellow, with ili activity in 2021

CDC flu view

This is Thanksgiving week 2022:

map of the United States showing high flu activity in most states

CDC flu view

This searing level of “flu-like illness” is a barometer based on patient symptoms (not viral tests), so it likely encompasses many cases of influenza, COVID, and several other respiratory illnesses that present to people. doctors’ doors.

Trying to tell if you have the flu or COVID based on your symptoms? Good luck.

“Fever, muscle aches, cough, headache, those are going to be common,” Dr. Roy Gulick, chief of infectious diseases at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, told Insider. “You really can’t tell the difference between the flu and COVID.”

This year’s peak in respiratory illnesses also came earlier than usual, and Gulick says it “caught people by surprise” who didn’t get their flu shot or COVID booster. But it’s not too late to roll up your sleeves, if you haven’t already.

table of influenza-like illnesses reported in the United States, showing that the 2022-2023 season is starting earlier than in previous years

CDC flu view

“There’s still time to get vaccinated,” Walensky said.

Flu season typically peaks in the United States between December and February, but illness can spread well into May, or even later in the spring and summer, as was the case last season.

If you have a fever, being tested for flu and COVID can help you access treatment

If you have a fever and a sore throat or cough, experts like Gulick suggest getting tested for two respiratory viruses: the flu and COVID. If you test positive for either, antiviral drugs can help you recover faster and more safely from your infection, especially if you are elderly or in a high-risk group.

If your COVID and flu test is negative, you may need to wait a few days and test again. But you could also have something else, like “older coronaviruses, a virus called adenovirus, and of course just the common cold,” Gulick said. All of these can also cause an upper respiratory infection. Other diseases circulating now include metapneumovirus and parainfluenza.

“Most people probably don’t need to know what they have,” Gulick said. “They’ll just get through the disease and then get better with supportive care.” Antibiotics aren’t helpful for viral illnesses, so plenty of bed rest, fluids, and Tylenol or ibuprofen for fevers and aches is the proven method for home care.

Although there is no cure or vaccine available yet for viral illnesses like RSV, influenza and COVID are “things that people can do something about,” Gulick said, making a point. vaccinating, boosting and using antiviral drugs like Paxlovid for COVID and Tamiflu for flu when warranted.

“We’ve always known that cold and flu season is more than just the flu,” Walensky said. For flu and COVID, “we want to make sure people know there are prevention and treatment interventions.”

Last week, nearly one in ten deaths nationwide were due to the flu, COVID, or pneumonia. Tragically, experts say, many of these deaths could have been prevented.

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