Respiratory illnesses increasing in southern Wisconsin ahead of Thanksgiving

MADISON, Wis. – Respiratory illnesses have spiked across southern Wisconsin in the last month, medical experts say.

Adult RSV cases are 10 times higher than last year, and respiratory ER visits in Rock County alone are up 35%.

“All three of these viruses (COVID, RSV, Flu) we have seen before, and they’re not totally uncommon, but what is unique is to see these viruses circulating at the high rate of activity and the high rate of positive tests were seeing at the same time, that hasn’t happened since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020,” said Tom Haupt, an Epidemiologist at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. 

RSV generally affects infants, but the elderly, particularly those with pre-existing conditions, are hit the hardest.

“A toddler could pick it up at daycare and then get better and then go visit grandma and grandpa that weekend and still could be shedding the virus, so that’s oftentimes when we see it get picked up in that area,” said Dr. Kyle Martin, the Emergency Medical Director at SSM Health. 

Leading into the holidays, how do you keep your family safe?

Experts say to start with basic hygiene. And while RSV doesn’t have a vaccine, the flu and COVID do, and officials say taking those can lead to some peace of mind.

“Know your children, know the fact that if they are at high risk, then maybe we don’t have to go to some of these gatherings, but if there’s any kind of symptomology going on, you really can’t tell any virus apart based on the symptomology,” Haupt added.

And most importantly, experts say respiratory illness is not inevitable.

“For a family, or for an individual, it’s not inevitable that you are going to get infected, and that you have control there are things we can do to reduce our risk,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer at DHS.