Colorado doctors warn of a challenging winter season for respiratory illnesses


The reason is that respiratory viruses are showing up in the population much earlier than normal. They typically peak from late fall into winter. But in 2022, Carney said that this early surge started back in late August with children being treated for rhino virus after going back to school. “To put it mildly, we’re seeing an intense start to both the RSV and flu seasons.”

RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, is typically a mild cold in adults with symptoms that include runny nose, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. But the virus can be serious for children. 

“I think most people misunderstand that a mild illness that they might have that only feels like a cold can cause severe illness in someone else; it can translate into a life-threatening illness in a young child,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, a state epidemiologist in Colorado.

As of Nov. 5, there have been 554 people hospitalized for RSV in the Denver Metro area since Oct. 1. 95 percent of those patients are children, and there have been 144 outbreaks in schools and or childcare centers statewide. 

Carney explained how Children’s Hospital Colorado has responded to the influx of patients. “We’ve reallocated beds and expanded patient care beds across our [hospital] system. We’ve also engaged in additional contract team members like travel nurses and respiratory therapists.”

Herlihy said there are many unknown factors that can account for the premature uptick in respiratory viruses, but that the COVID-19 pandemic has played a part in disrupting the usual timing of their transmission. 

“Over the last few years, because of actions taken because of the pandemic, we saw suppression of the flu and RSV, which means now we see unusual things like RSV being transmitted during the summertime,” she explained. 

Meanwhile, the state continues to track rising COVID-19 numbers as well. As of November 8, there are 320 hospitalizations for COVID-19 statewide, up from 218 one week ago.

[You can find more of data released to media here or on the CDPHE website.

As for prevention, people are encouraged to use similar strategies to prevent the spread of COVID:

  • Getting vaccinated
  • Hand washing for at least 20 seconds
  • Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Staying home when sick
  • Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils
  • Clean potentially contaminated surfaces
  • Sneezing either into an elbow or tissue


Parents should call their child’s pediatrician with any concerns, and if it’s an emergency, call 911 or go to the closet emergency room.

Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at [email protected].

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