A dangerous mix of flu, RSV, and COVID-19 is leading to a spike in hospitalizations among children in several states as kids return to school from winter break. Georgia, Wisconsin, Alabama, and other states are reporting surging pediatric cases, with some hospitals and healthcare systems struggling to manage the influx.
Flu Drives Up Respiratory Illnesses
The flu is hitting parts of the country very hard right now, driving up illnesses according to health officials. Georgia is one of 7 states experiencing significant outbreaks, and hospitals around Atlanta are seeing more influenza hospitalizations, though doctors say it’s not abnormal for this time of year.
“We know that flu season peaks between December and February, so this lines up with what we typically see. That being said, our volumes are up, and we have seen more flu cases this year than we did last year,” said Dr. Andi Shane, chief of the division of pediatric infectious disease at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
RSV and COVID Also Circulating
In addition to high flu activity, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 continue to circulate. RSV typically causes cold-like symptoms but can become serious for infants and older adults. COVID also tends to be milder in children but remains a concern.
This combination of viruses is being called a “tripledemic” and is overwhelming some children’s hospitals that were already strained from this fall’s early RSV surge.
“We are worried that co-circulation of influenza, COVID-19 and RSV could overwhelm healthcare systems,” said Dr. José R. Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Experts warn this triple threat of viruses could last for several more months until the typical end of flu season in late spring.
Spike in Hospitalizations Among Youngest Patients
Hospitals around the country are reporting a significant jump in hospitalizations for children under 5 years old infected with respiratory viruses. This very young demographic seems especially susceptible to complications from flu and RSV.
At Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, RSV has caused several weeks of hospitalizations consistently higher than any peak in typical pre-pandemic years.
The hospital is seeing a new round of preschool-aged children infected with flu on top of already high RSV numbers.
|% Increase in Child Hospitalizations
Facilities designed just for children are overwhelmed, while adult hospitals with pediatric wings are squeezed for space. Public health officials predict pediatric hospitalizations will continue rising for at least several more weeks.
Preventing Spread of Illness Critical
Doctors strongly recommend parents take measures to prevent spread of respiratory illnesses now circulating:
- Keep sick children home from school
- Teach effective hand washing techniques
- Ensure kids and family members stay up to date on flu and COVID shots
- Make sure children get plenty of sleep and nutrition
The spikes in hospitalizations illustrate how dangerous flu can be for children. Getting vaccinated remains the best defense.
Health officials also remind childcare centers and schools to sanitize surfaces and reinforce hygiene habits to stem transmission. Specialists advise parents to contact pediatricians promptly at the first major symptoms like high fever or breathing issues.
Longer Term Outlook Mixed
Looking ahead, public health leaders expect RSV and flu cases to gradually decline over the next two months. However, COVID remains stubbornly unpredictable, especially with new Omicron subvariants emerging.
Recent years show respiratory viruses can linginger through early spring. Schools, hospitals, and families must remain vigilant with mitigation measures until the risk clearly subsides.
In the longer term, researchers continue working on more effective flu vaccines including shots that could provide longer lasting protection. Pediatric centers aim to increase capacity to withstand future viral surges.
For now, this winter’s tripledemic serves as a harsh reminder – the youngest children remain especially helpless against seasonal illnesses regularly circulating the globe. Renewed efforts to shield them loom as an urgent priority.
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