Respiratory viruses circulating as summer begins

While our public life feels mostly back to normal, in private, people keep contracting COVID-19.

Consider Pam Lindhom’s Seattle apartment building.

“Five-unit building, two out of five have COVID today,” she said.

It’s not just COVID; the flu and other respiratory viruses are also spreading.

“Influenza A is definitely circulating right now in June, which is weird,” said Dr. Helen Chu of UW Medicine, who leads the Seattle Flu Study.

She said, in some cases, people are becoming infected with more than one virus at a time.

Chu points to how cases this spring went up for all kinds of respiratory viruses, including RSV, which often affects children.

“We’re actually seeing them come up in the spring and in the summer now, in a way that we never saw before,” Chu said.

In the early days of the pandemic, when the streets were empty and people wore masks, other viruses largely stopped circulating.

Now, with much less masking, the viruses are back and spreading out of season.

“All the social distancing sort of fell away and we saw a sort of bump in influenza,” said Dr. Paul Thottingal, medical director of communicable diseases for Kaiser Permanente Washington.

He said people who are sick and test negative for COVID are likely contagious with something else.

“If you don’t have COVID, that’s not the end of the story. You want to make sure the other folks around you don’t get sick,” Thottingal said.

Dr. Chu expects respiratory viruses will return to their regular winter season.

She said scientists are now aiming for a single vaccine each fall to cover flu and COVID.

“There is a lot of work being done now to try to combine them together into a seasonal vaccine,” Chu said.

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