The flu is not alone, other respiratory illnesses also stalk the region

Although health officials said Wednesday that they believe cases of the flu may be peaking this week in Mono County, the winter still has the potential to be a miserable one.

This year’s strain of influenza has hogged the spotlight due to being unusually virulent, but there are other viruses that are causing a lot of pain to people locally, according to Dr. Rick Johnson, Mono County’s public health officer.

“We are seeing an increase in other respiratory illnesses, even as we hope the flu is peaking," said Johnson. That said, the flu is still an issue in Mono County, he said, and there is still time to get a vaccine.

But in the case of several other sicknesses out there, there may still be something to worry about. Bouts of coughing that last for weeks, frequent and intense vomiting, diarrhea, and a bad stomachache are some of the main symptoms of the other illnesses now running through the Eastern Sierra, he said. These illnesses include respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza, and norovirus.

"There's a great deal of respiratory syncytial virus circulating right now," said Dr. Andrew Pavia, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Utah in a Jan. 17 National Public Radio article. “RSV causes pretty severe respiratory disease in children, particularly younger children under about (two years of age).

It's pretty common for them to be hospitalized with wheezing and shortness of breath."

Although it has "influenza" in its name, parainfluenza is not an influenza virus.

"It most commonly causes croup—that kind of barky cough that children get," Pavia said. "But in adults, it can cause laryngitis and a prolonged cough."

Some people call Norovirus a "stomach flu," but it really doesn't have anything to do with the flu, Parvia said.

Its specialty is intestinal, causing nonstop diarrhea and what doctors call "projectile vomiting,’ which can quickly lead to a dangerous level of dehydration.

Although not as intense as the flu, these illnesses are capable of creating plenty of misery.

“Most people with the flu feel like they have been run over with a truck,” Johnson said. “If you have had the flu and you have had other respiratory illnesses, like a cold, or a lesser illness, you will know the difference.”

"A classic case of flu starts off suddenly with high fever, maybe shaking chills, severe muscle and body aches," said Pavia. "It's not uncommon for people to say their hair hurts, they hurt so badly.

“If you're having chills that are so bad that your teeth are chattering and the chair is shaking under you, you're pretty sick," Pavia said. "And if it's not flu, it's probably a serious bacterial infection. Regardless, it’s a pretty good indication you should see a doctor."


"Over the last week, the Eastern Sierra has been continuing to see high levels of influenza activity. We are seeing increased visits to healthcare providers, positive laboratory tests, Emergency Department visits, Tamiflu prescriptions, and at least 4 hospitalizations. We have not had any deaths attributed to influenza in our area yet. The impact has been most severe for the seniors, which is the typical pattern when the H3N2 strain is predominant. In the nation, over 50% of the hospitalizations, and over 90% of the deaths have been among seniors. However, let’s not forget that over 30 children have also died. Influenza is still considered to be widespread throughout California, and numbers in Southern California are still high.

Haven’t received your shot – never too late! Check with your healthcare provider, pharmacy, or health department for availability.

Let me address one issue that continues to cause confusion. Many people say they have or have had “the flu”, when in fact, they have experienced one of the many other infections that circulate every winter.

There are a number of different respiratory infections typically infecting people during the winter months, including influenza, RSV (respiratory syncitial virus), whooping cough (pertussis), adenovirus, metapneumovirus, parainfluenza, mycoplasma, etc. Signs and symptoms overlap so much that it is difficult to differentiate one from the other. A few of them have laboratory tests that are helpful (influenza, RSV, pertussis), and most do not respond to antibiotics.

A true influenza infection is characterized not only by the runny nose, cough, and sore throat that are true of all of the above, but also usually with a high fever, headache, and body aches. It is usually bad enough that a person will stay home from school or work for at least a few days. Vomiting or diarrhea are not a prominent part of the illness.

In addition, there has been a lot of gastrointestinal illness circulating in our community. I was told today that one of the schools sent 14 children home with stomach ache and vomiting. This may be what is known as “winter vomiting disease”, or norovirus. Persons who are exposed will become ill within 12-36 hours, and usually recover fairly quickly. When an outbreak occurs in a long-term care facility, fatalities are not unusual. Norovirus is the same bug that commonly causes large outbreaks on cruise ships.

What should you do to reduce your chance of getting sick?
- Most important, get your flu shot. Good news! Recent shipments have now given us an adequate supply to meet the anticipated need. The Health Department, pharmacies, and clinics all have vaccine.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching common surfaces such as doorknobs and grocery carts. Keep your hands away from your face.
- Drink plenty of fluids, eat well, get adequate rest.
What should you do if you get sick?
- Stay home! Do your co-workers or fellow students a favor by not giving them a gift they do not want! Stay home at least until you are fever free without medication for 24 hours.
- Cover your cough with your arm or sleeve.
- Drink plenty of fluids, treat your fever, rest.
- Call your healthcare provider if you are concerned, if your symptoms are severe or fail to improve, especially if you are at higher risk for complications (pregnant, young children, seniors, those with chronic medical conditions such as lung and heart problems, diabetes, kidney disease, immunosuppression).
- Talk to your healthcare provider about an antiviral medication like Tamiflu within 48 hours of getting sick if you all agree that you might have a true influenza infection.
- At the provider’s office, follow instructions for wearing a mask and washing your hands.
- Ask all personnel interacting with you at the provider’s office if they have had a flu shot. If they have not, request that someone work with you that has received their flu vaccine this season!