Health department warns Virginians of increase in respiratory illnesses this summer

Posted at 11:09 AM, Jul 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-19 11:12:43-04

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Health is warning residents of an increase in reports of respiratory illnesses across the Commonwealth compared to previous summers.

While respiratory illnesses are more common during the winter or during flu season, health officials are seeing an increase in reports this summer.

Those reports involve different regions of the state and different diseases, including pertussis (whooping cough), influenza, Haemophilus influenzae infection, Legionnaire’s disease, and pneumonia caused by rhinovirus or human metapneumovirus, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Health officials say the majority of the reports have occurred among older adults and those with chronic medical conditions in assisted living and long-term care facilities.

Three people have died and more 63 residents of the Greenspring Retirement Community in Fairfax have become ill following a respiratory outbreak at the facility. Officials say symptoms ranged from upper cough to pneumonia.

Health officials say 19 employees of the assisted living facility have also reported symptoms of upper respiratory illness.

A specific cause has not yet been identified.

“A variety of germs cause respiratory illness, some with increased activity in summer months,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We encourage everyone to take steps to minimize the severity and prevent spreading illness to others.”

Young children, adults 65 years or older, those with chronic medical conditions (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart conditions) and those with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable for developing a severe respiratory illness, health officials said.

“To avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others, it is important to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing,” said Dr. Oliver. “To help prevent the spread of germs, avoid close contact with people who are sick. Anyone who is sick should stay home, except when seeking medical care. If you develop difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, immediately seek medical care.”

Officials warn extreme heat, like Virginia is currently experiencing, can also be dangerous for older adults and people with heart and lung diseases.

Health officials warn anyone experiencing difficulty breathing should seek medical care immediately.