What to know about the viruses and illnesses currently affecting Southern Nevada
In the last month or so, what seems like a plethora of illnesses and strange diseases have popped up around Southern Nevada.
Does the cold make you sick? What have we learned, and what should we be looking out for? When's the best time to get a flu shot?
Brian Labus is an epidemiologist and assistant professor at UNLV's School of Public Health. He joined State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann for more.
Candida auris ‘superbug’
The potentially lethal fungus was first identified in a Las Vegas hospital in May, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. Since August 2021 through Sept. 26 of this year, at least 536 cases have been reported at 26 hospitals and skilled nursing facilities in Southern Nevada.
Labus said the reason it’s concerning is because it’s drug-resistant, which makes it difficult to treat, though it’s not unique to Southern Nevada and isn’t something the public should worry about regularly.
“It's a little difficult to diagnose, because it's not something that causes a characteristic illness. It causes a bloodstream infection quite frequently. You get nonspecific symptoms; you can have a fever, you're not feeling well. We typically see it in people who are hospitalized; it's not something that you need to worry about in your day-to-day life,” Labus said. “Now, over the last couple years, we've started looking for this bug, and we're seeing it as a result of that surveillance. “
RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus
NPR recently reported an unseasonably early spike in RSV cases among young children is pushing some hospitals across the country to capacity.
“This is a very common organism, everybody in the country gets this by about age two,” he said. In some cases, it can be serious and require hospitalizations, but typically presents like a cold and is spread kid-to-kid.
“We don't have huge pediatric emergency rooms in Las Vegas. So we don't have a lot of places to go. Basically, if your kid gets sick, you're going to Sunrise Hospital; you're not going to all the hospitals in the valley. Around the country, we've seen that starting to impact those healthcare systems where a lot of kids are coming in for RSV treatment with serious respiratory and breathing problems.”
Labus said the teenager who died from this recently was exposed in warm water, like the hot springs around Lake Mead. In those areas, there are signs warning of the amoeba and to not dunk your head under water. It enters through the nose, and gets to the brain from there. By the time it’s identified, it’s typically too late, but it’s extremely rare.
“We're talking about something that is directly attacking your nervous system,” Labus said. “And as soon as that starts to happen, you're going to start to have the symptoms and as it progresses, that's when we identify it. So by the time we find it, it's already started to attack parts of your brain. That's why the death rate winds up being so high for this.”
You can still go into the water, he reminded listeners. The hot springs are a popular hiking area and are safe to go in, but pay mind to the signage.
As of Oct. 26, there were 270 known cases of monkeypox in Clark County, and about 7,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered.
The virus has “really slowed down” over the past month, he said, due to a combination of factors: immunity, vaccinations and behavioral changes. Those most at risk were those with many sexual partners, and nationwide, those people reduced their partners to reduce their risk, thus reducing the spread.
“We're still identifying people with it, but the numbers are way down from where they were,” he said. “And they're trending in the direction where this will burn itself out.”
Coronavirus also is not over yet. We've been living with it for almost three years, people are still dying of COVID, but much less than even back in February.
On Feb. 2, for instance, the seven-day average of deaths in the United States was 2,632. Yesterday, on Oct. 25, the seven-day average had fallen to 356 deaths nationwide. For the number of cases in Clark County, the seven-day average just a week ago was 144.
“We are seeing little COVID transmission right now because we saw so much earlier in the year,” Labus said. “Basically, people weren't stopping the disease, they weren't getting vaccinated, we had a lot of transmission, we have this massive omicron wave that happened where a huge percentage of our community wound up getting infected. As a result, there is a lot of immunity out there in the population.”
But, new variants keep on coming. The Washington Post recently reported an omicron variant lurking. Labus said there are new variants every day, but most of them go nowhere.
“It's just the natural evolution of the virus. We're gonna keep tracking it and see if these ultimately matter. Right now, we haven't seen them spreading a lot in this country,” he said.
- Experts: Lake Mead brain-eating amoeba that killed Las Vegas teen among few in US
- Children's hospitals grapple with a nationwide surge in RSV infections
- Las Vegas Review-Journal: First ‘superbug’ case cluster in kids identified at Las Vegas hospital
- Southern Nevada Health District: Health District reports first death of a resident with monkeypox
- How to time your flu shot for best protection
Dr. Brian Labus, epidemiologist and assistant professor, UNLV School of Public Health