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Cases of respiratory viruses increasing in Southern Oregon

Eden Aldrich, right, medical director for the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Russ Hatch at the Deschutes County Public Health Department in Bend, Ore., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.
Bradley W. Parks
/
OPB
Eden Aldrich, right, medical director for the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Russ Hatch at the Deschutes County Public Health Department in Bend, Ore., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

With the holidays coming up, Oregon’s health officials are encouraging caution in the face of COVID-19, the flu, and RSV, another respiratory virus.

Like many parts of the country, Jackson County is experiencing a modest uptick in COVID cases, as well as a rapid increase in cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and the flu.

Jackson County Medical Director Leona O'Keefe said these increases are especially concerning given that the health care system is still trying to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

"While the increase in hospitalizations from each individual virus may not be a tremendous rise, when you put all of that together on a system that is already strained, it's concerning for our ability to provide the highest level of care that we want to provide for each and every individual," she said.

RSV affects people of all ages, but those who are very young and older adults are often more severely affected.

O’Keefe said this means that care can be hard to access in Oregon, where the only pediatric intensive care units are in Portland.

"Oregon in general, and actually most of the United States, has very few pediatric ICU beds. So we are reliant on a couple of hospitals in the Portland area to take our sickest children," she said.

In addition, she said the current strain of RSV seems to be more severe than past seasons.

Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford does have a neonatal intensive care unit, but with cases of all three respiratory viruses increasing in the Rogue Valley, O’Keefe worries about hospital capacity and additional stress on a health care system that has already been strained by COVID.

"We do not know exactly what will happen when all of these viruses come together at once," she said, but she encourages Oregonians to stay up to date on vaccines, test for COVID before holiday events, wash their hands frequently, and stay home if they have any symptoms.

Jane Vaughan began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media. Jane recently earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.