As summer wound down and the United States headed into fall and winter, doctors feared Americans were seeing a “double epidemic” — a situation in which the flu and COVID-19 collide. propagate at the same time.
But experts told ABC News the country could now face the threat of a “triple epidemic” as doctors see an early rise in other pediatric respiratory viruses, particularly respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, respiratory diseases are appearing earlier and in more people than in recent years.
The federal health agency says there have also been early increases in flu activity across most of the United States, with indications that this season could be much more severe than the previous two seasons.
As of Monday afternoon, pediatric bed occupancy in the United States was the highest in two years with 75% of the estimated 40,000 beds filled with patients, according to an ABC News analysis.
COVID-19 infections have not yet started to rise, according to CDC data. But in previous years, the virus started spreading around Thanksgiving.
Experts have said a combination of waning COVID immunity and lack of exposure to other viruses, combined with close gatherings indoors, is fueling a “perfect storm”.
“The problem is mainly that population immunity is low and children are herded together again, which facilitates the rapid spread of viruses like RSV,” said Dr. John Brownstein, epidemiologist and chief innovation officer. at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC. News contributor. “And because of the sheer volume of infections, when you have that larger denominator, you have a situation where some of those kids are going to require hospital treatment. And because of that, our hospitals are spread out, not just for the capacity in beds, but also for critical personnel, of these beds.”
He added: “So the combination of shortages, bed capacity and the increase in viral illnesses is creating an unfortunate perfect storm that we are seeing happening everywhere right now.”
MORE | RSV in Children: Symptoms, Treatment and What Parents Need to Know
Resurgence of respiratory viruses
Over the past two years, there have been more restrictions such as masking, social distancing, capacity limits and school closures. This meant that fewer Americans were also exposed to other viruses, including influenza and RSV.
Now, with little or no mitigation measures in cities and states across the country, this is leading to a resurgence of these viruses.
“That just leaves a lot of children, young children in particular, born since March 2020 who haven’t yet encountered RSV infections,” Dr. Larry Kociolek, medical director of Lurie Children’s Hospital, told ABC News. from Chicago. “And that will increase the ability of the virus to spread and increase the number of children who will be infected.”
Flu test positivity rates rose from 1.27% for the week ending September 24 to 4.38% for the week ending October 15, according to the CDC, higher than usual for this period. of the year, experts said.
SEE ALSO: Growing concerns over rising flu cases and when you should get the shot
Brownstein said another difficult issue for hospitals is staffing shortages.
“We already have an overworked and overstretched workforce, you have a lot of those who have left the health sector because of burnout,” he said. “And on top of that, you have an infection among the healthcare staff.”
Importance of vaccination
Doctors told ABC News that it is vital that children are vaccinated to prevent serious complications. Children can be hospitalized for any of these infections and those with underlying conditions are most at risk.
“If your child has not yet received the flu vaccine, it is imperative that he [gets one] as soon as possible,” Dr. Federico Laham, medical director of pediatric infectious diseases at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, told ABC News. “It takes, as we know, a few weeks to prepare a response. In some children who, especially after the last two years with very little flu circulation, the immune system becomes a little lazy and forgetful. It is therefore important to “remember” it.
Laham continued: “The same applies to the COVID vaccine. Some children developed COVID at the start of the pandemic and then did not receive the vaccine. We know it works, we know it is extremely safe. .”
Additionally, experts say parents can consider having their children wear masks and ensure they practice good hand hygiene, washing their hands thoroughly with soap and water.
“The other thing schools can do, and kids can do, is make sure they bring hand sanitizer to school so they can clean their hands and wipes to wipe down surfaces.” , said Dr. Tom Murray, associate professor of pediatrics in the section of infectious diseases at Yale University School of Medicine, told ABC News. “And again, common contact points, although wiping down contaminated surfaces is especially important with viruses like RSV.”
ABC News’ Eric Strauss contributed to this report.
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