Respiratory viruses surging as cold, wet weather continues across state

Respiratory viruses surging as cold, wet weather continues across state

BOSTON — Last week, the emergency department at Massachusetts General Hospital had something to celebrate: the first day in many months they saw no cases of the flu.

But, it was one step forward and many steps back as other respiratory viruses are surging – and this spring's lousy weather could partially be to blame.

Some doctors are seeing a spike in illnesses more common to the colder months.

Content Continues Below

"We've seen a very large number of adults and children who have prolonged coughing, fever, upper respiratory illness," said Doctor Paul Biddinger, an emergency department physician at Mass. General Hospital.

Biddinger says both the flu and these other viral illnesses are hanging on longer than usual.

"Typically, we see it tapering off in say late March," he said. "Now April and even into May we're seeing a large number of cases."

And that cough can be the most stubborn symptom of all, possibly lasting up to eight weeks after the infection. Fortunately, at that point, it's usually not sickening others; but, for the first couple of weeks, the cough can spread sickness.

The persistent, lousy weather isn't directly to blame for all those respiratory illnesses, but it has meant more activities inside and thus more opportunities for germ exposure.

"This kind of rainy cool weather that we're having definitely encourages people to be indoors and closer to one another and close proximity," said Larry Madoff of the Mass. Department of Public Health. "And that, of course, facilitates the spread of respiratory viruses."

At the State Department of Public Health, Doctor Madoff has been monitoring the state's flu season since last fall.

It's winding down, he says, but Massachusetts remains in a widespread outbreak situation.

"That means we're seeing widespread flu activity that's above the baseline, in our case it's just slightly above the baseline," Doctor Madoff said. "And we're seeing it throughout the state."