Teddy bear holding a tissue and thermometer, with a medicine bottle nearby

Viral and bacterial infections are on the rise: Precautions advised

RSV, Flu, COVID-19, and Group A streptococcus infections also pose combined risks

Like schools and communities across the state and country, Holyoke has recently experienced overlapping surges of viral illnesses among our students and staff, including the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), the flu, and COVID-19. 

Some parts of the country have also seen an increase in Group A streptococcus infections (such as scarlet fever and strep throat) in children. Massachusetts health officials are bracing for these bacterial infections to be on the rise locally, too. 

All of these illnesses are contagious, and spread can occur relatively quickly. It is particularly concerning that it is possible for individuals to have two or more of these viral conditions serially, simultaneously, or even paired with bacterial or other infections. And because the symptoms for these three viral illnesses share some similar symptoms, it can be hard to tell them apart. 

If your child is symptomatic, we recommend keeping your child at home and reaching out to your healthcare provider for guidance. Likewise, we recommend the same for staff members. 

Is it COVID-19, RSV, the flu, or something else? 

COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Fever (100.0° Fahrenheit or higher), chills, or shaking chills

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • New loss of taste or smell

  • Muscle aches or body aches

  • Cough (not due to other known cause, such as a chronic cough)

  • Sore throat, when in combination with other symptoms

  • Nausea, vomiting, when in combination with other symptoms

  • Headache when in combination with other symptoms

  • Fatigue, when in combination with other symptoms

  • Nasal congestion or runny nose (not due to other known causes, such as allergies) when in combination with other symptoms

Everyone is encouraged to be vigilant regarding symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone experiencing symptoms should remain home and test for COVID-19. The CDC also recommends everyone stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines for their age group.

RSV can cause a fever, cough, fatigue, stuffy nose, shortness of breath, sneezing, fast/short breaths, flaring nostrils, wheezing and grunting, poor feeding/no appetite, and head bobbing or chest caving in between and under ribs with each breath. Symptoms of RSV are usually the worst on days 3-5 and typically last about five to seven days. The infection may be followed by bronchiolitis or pneumonia. RSV is common in late fall through early spring. Stay home and contact your healthcare provider right away if you or your family members are experiencing RSV symptoms.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, stuffy nose, shortness of breath, sore throat, and headache. Symptoms show up about 1 to 4 days after being exposed to a sick person. The Flu can cause pneumonia. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health continues to strongly recommend that everyone age six months and older receive their seasonal flu vaccine each year.  It’s not too late to get a flu shot!

Group A streptococcus infections (such as scarlet fever and strep throat) in children are caused by bacteria and require antibiotics to treat the infection. We ask that your child remain home and you call your healthcare provider if you or your child has any of these signs and symptoms:

  • A sore throat accompanied by tender, swollen lymph glands

  • A sore throat that lasts longer than 48 hours

  • A fever

  • A sore throat accompanied by a rash

  • Problems breathing or swallowing

  • If strep has been diagnosed, a lack of improvement after taking antibiotics for 48 hours

Actions you can take to keep you and your loved ones well

  • Hand washing—Proper hand washing is the best way to prevent infections! That's why it's important to wash your hands regularly. Teach your children how to wash their hands properly for at least 20 seconds using soap and water or to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if there is no soap and water available. Wash hands after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, before and after eating, and whenever soiled. 

  • Cover your mouth—Teach your children to cough or sneeze into their sleeve and never into their hands.  

  • Vaccines—It is important to remain current with flu vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, and general childhood immunizations.

  • Don't share personal items—including drinking glasses or eating utensils. Wash dishes in hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher.

  • Stay home when sick and contact your healthcare provider and building nurse as needed. 

  • Avoid crowded areas and maintain distance between yourself and others where possible. 

  • Wear a well-fitting mask in public places and gatherings when not feeling well and/or when you are in the presence of others who may not feel well. 

Contact your building nurse for more information.