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Flu not the only germ threat this time of year

The flu hasn't even hit hard yet this year, but it seems like everyone's getting sick. What's the deal?

Simply put, there are a lot more infectious invaders besides the flu to worry about. They don't get the big headlines, but they still knock people down for days or weeks and cause thousands of deaths each winter.

Metapneumovirus. Rhinoviruses. Coronaviruses. Parainfluenza. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Pronouncing the names of the microbes can be almost as difficult as bearing the illnesses themselves. They're on doorknobs, faucets, and appliance handles all around you, and maybe in your nose and lungs too. Some of the viruses are also wafting through the air you breathe, looking to land in your eyes or nose and set up house inside your body. And those are just the respiratory germs never mind Strep in the throat and ears, or Norwalk viral agents that attack the GI system, and so on.

While the world's attention has migrated to bird flu, not a single person in the western hemisphere has contracted the deadly form of the disease. And though "regular" flu is still a potent threat, expected to kill more than 35,000 people in the United States annually, your sick neighbor or colleague who probably doesn't have the flu is a sniffling, sneezing, wheezing, whining reminder that there are other germ threats.

Infectious disease experts at the University of Rochester Medical Center have tracked the dangers from one of the most common bugs, RSV, and they say the threat to some groups of people, such as the elderly, equals that from flu. Even though flu gets all the press, RSV is a stealth bug worthy of attention too.

Ann Falsey, M.D., and Edward Walsh, M.D., faculty members in the University's Infectious Disease Unit of the Department of Medicine, have found that RSV affects elderly and high-risk adults as much as the flu. In a paper published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, they estimated that 14,000 elderly and
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
13-Jan-2006


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