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Respiratory Illness Cases Surging in County, State

Respiratory Illness Cases Surging in County, State

By Vince Conti

fizkes/Shutterstock.com

As 2023 ended and 2024 began, there was a surge in the number of individuals with respiratory illness seeking emergency medical assistance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Since early November, the percentage of emergency department visits across the nation due to viral respiratory illness has tripled. CDC data show 38 states experiencing high or very high levels of respiratory illness, with New Jersey at the very high level.

The two hospitals that most directly serve Cape May County are reporting an increase in patients with respiratory illness. Both hospitals said they have responded by following CDC guidelines.

Shore Medical Center requires all visitors and hospital staff to wear a surgical mask in all patient areas. Shore put that policy in place at the end of the summer. Masking is also required at Shore Physicians Group locations.

A hospital spokesperson said Shore is following the current guidelines from the CDC, the World Health Organization and the New Jersey Department of Health, along with the hospital’s chief of infectious disease.

Cape Regional Medical Center updated its mask policy on Dec. 30 to “masking required” for all patients, visitors and staff. A call to Cape Regional’s Urgent Care locations showed a similar masking requirement. The medical center said it continues to monitor the increase very carefully and will continue to follow CDC guidance.

A spokesperson for Cape Regional added that the medical center is also seeing an increase in gastrointestinal illness since the middle of December.

Both hospitals report an increase in respiratory illness cases related to Covid, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The CDC data suggest that the biggest culprit at present is influenza, which accounts for more than half of the emergency department respiratory illness visits. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age or older. The state Department of Health reports that fewer than 50% of adults and fewer than 70% of children under 18 receive the flu vaccine.

Covid cases are next in line, accounting for a little over a third of the emergency department visits. The state dashboard shows that hospitalizations due to Covid infection have more than doubled since November, with a threefold increase in the number of intensive care unit admissions, increasing from 22 in November to 77 in the first week of 2024.

A similar pattern of low levels of vaccinated individuals applies. In Cape May County, 92% of the adult population have had one dose of the Covid vaccine, and 70% have had two doses. But only 18% of county residents have had the most recent dose.

The third threat in the respiratory illness assault comes from RSV. State data from the COVID-19 and Respiratory Illness Activity Report for the week ending Dec. 30 show that 10% of the RSV tests performed were positive.

National data indicate that 16% of flu tests are now returning positive, as are 13% of Covid tests.

The state Health Department lists four counties in the state at high risk levels in the Covid and respiratory illness report: Atlantic, Ocean, Monmouth and Cape May. The normal lag in reporting may mean that holiday get-togethers will produce another bump in the numbers that has not yet shown itself.

Health professionals recommend that those with symptoms remain home to avoid spreading infection, and seek medical attention if breathing becomes labored.

For those wishing to avoid illness, recommendations include increasing ventilation where possible and wearing masks when not at home, especially when in crowded places.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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