Department of Health warns of increase in respiratory illnesses, which heat could worsen

The National Weather Service has issued heat advisories for most of Virginia, and excessive heat warnings for southeastern Virginia. (NBC12)

The Virginia Department of Health has received an increased number of reports of respiratory illnesses this summer, it said in a release.

The department warned state residents and health providers about the uptick in diseases, which include influenza, Legionnaire’s disease, pneumonia and pertussis, or whooping cough.

Each of the illnesses have their own particular seasonal pattern, said Jonathan Falk, epidemiology program manager with VDH. There isn’t necessarily a common factor influencing the increase.

“Generally speaking, we do see respiratory illnesses of different sorts year round,” he said. “We noticed this particular uptick happening once we were officially out of flu season and that coupled with the heat warranted making everyone aware of what’s going on.”

According to the state’s reportable disease data, there have been 80 cases of Legionellosis disease, or Legionnaire’s disease, so far this year compared to a year-to-date average of 66 cases. There have also been 75 reported cases of haemophilus influenzae infection, which can cause pneumonia, compared to the typical 64 cases.

The diseases are spread through person-to-person contact, so the release advised Virginia residents to wash their hands often and avoid close contact with people who are sick.

The heat raging through the state can make a bad situation worse, Falk explained, potentially increasing the severity of heart and lung diseases. Heat especially affects older people, and the uptick in respiratory illnesses have largely been seen in assisted living and long-term care facilities.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office also warned about the extreme heat, urging Virginians to take appropriate precautions especially to protect children and pets.

“The extreme temperatures in Virginia continue to pose a real threat to health and safety, especially for young children or animals left in vehicles or outside without adequate precautions and shelter,” Herring said in a statement.