Newspaper article The Canadian Press

It's Not Just Flu, Folks - Plenty of Viruses Making the Rounds

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

It's Not Just Flu, Folks - Plenty of Viruses Making the Rounds

Article excerpt

It's not just flu, folks - it's virus season


TORONTO - After a couple of relatively mild seasons, this year the flu is really making headlines.

But there are a lot of viruses making the rounds this winter. It's easy to mistake one for another -- and hard even for doctors to tell some of them apart at times.

This is, after all, the sick season. The cold-and-flu season. A time for the spread of viruses that make folks wheeze and sneeze and feel like crap. It's also a time for viruses that tether you to the bathroom.

Let's take a look at some of the bugs that are making people sick these days.

First off, there's influenza. Known more commonly as the flu, it's a respiratory illness. It infects the lungs, not the stomach. (More on this later.)

Flu's signature is that it comes on fast and hits you hard. It's symptoms are like those of a cold, but generally worse. So congestion, coughing, runny nose -- that whole complex of symptoms is something you can expect from the flu.

In addition, influenza sufferers often complain of fever, headache, muscle aches, profound fatigue. This is the one that sends you to bed for several days on end. And it can take several weeks to feel fully recovered. Influenza can also open the door to pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.

This year flu has really been making itself felt in many parts of the country, though in some places it is already past its peak. (Flu seasons typically show a very sharp curve of infections, then taper off.)

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Michael Gardam says this year's flu activity in Toronto was explosive, surging from normal for the time of year in the week before Christmas to serious levels the following week.

"Normally there's sort of a step-wise increase and this was a very dramatic increase," says Gardam, head of infection control for Toronto's University Health Network.

But that wasn't the case everywhere. Manitoba, for instance, has had a "busy-ish" flu season, according to the province's chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Routledge. But he says another virus caused quite a bit of illness in Manitoba before influenza took hold.

That other virus? RSV.

Respiratory syncytial virus is one of the viruses that falls under the umbrella of "influenza-like illnesses." It's a crowded category, including coronaviruses, rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, para-influenza (which is not influenza) and human metapneumoviruses.

It was a really bad fall for rhinoviruses, which are often called the cause of the common cold. But rhinovirus infections started to decline sharply around mid-October and by mid-December influenza and RSV were taking over.

RSV isn't flu, but like influenza it attacks the lungs and causes the same panoply of symptoms experienced with influenza.

It's a common infection, and according to last week's FluWatch report from the Public Health Agency of Canada, it's on the rise at the moment in Canada. …

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