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“Current Coughs Health Woes: Exploring the Impact of the Current Virus Season in Comparison to Previous Years”

Coughs described as “horrid,” persistent colds that refuse to relent, entire households succumbing to the flu, and a surge in individuals seeking sick notes to verify their illness—social media is filled with accounts of people falling ill or knowing someone who is. The perception is that nearly everyone is experiencing sickness or its aftermath, prompting questions on platforms like Reddit about whether others are facing similar situations and if this year is different.

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Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, attributes this heightened awareness to our evolving response to respiratory viruses, compounded by the lingering impact of COVID-19. Following a challenging season last year, the current patterns align more closely with the pre-pandemic years, with the addition of SARS-CoV-2.


Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University, notes the simultaneous prevalence of COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). While the expected behavior of influenza and RSV contrasts with the early, severe, and brief influenza season observed last year, the fall wave of COVID-19 has been prolonged, exacerbated by a low uptake of the vaccine.

With a national test positivity rate of 18% for SARS-CoV-2, it significantly outpaces other viruses, creating a challenging environment. Despite ongoing COVID-19 waves and low vaccine uptake, people are now grappling with a resurgence of traditional respiratory viruses, including influenza A, RSV, and other common cold viruses.

Although this respiratory virus season resembles the pre-pandemic norm, the unique circumstances contribute to a complex landscape. The surge in rhinoviruses, known for causing common cold symptoms, is particularly noticeable after heightened precautions during the pandemic’s acute phase. Rhinoviruses, usually harmless, can trigger prolonged airway reactivity in older individuals, leading to lingering coughs.

RSV is experiencing a peak, affecting young children under the age of one. Hospitals, including Kingston Health Sciences Centre, report an increase in RSV-related admissions, underscoring the impact of this respiratory virus on healthcare facilities.

While some speculate that previous COVID-19 infections may make individuals more susceptible to other viruses, experts dismiss consistent evidence of widespread immune suppression. The focus now is on addressing the increasing risk of severe illness, especially with hospitals dealing with staff shortages and backlogs.

Public health officials recommend updated COVID-19 and flu shots, urging older adults to prioritize vaccination. RSV vaccines are also available for those aged 60 and older. Despite the importance of ongoing vaccination efforts, messaging conveying a sense that the pandemic is over may contribute to lower vaccine uptake.

As we navigate this complex landscape of overlapping respiratory viruses and an evolving pandemic response, continued vigilance, vaccination, and public health measures remain essential. The risk of severe illness persists, emphasizing the need for ongoing protection and adherence to recommended health practices.

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