Emergency room visits related to three of the most disruptive viruses — flu, respiratory syncytial virus and Covid — are declining across the country.
But is the feared “triple disease” over? Hardly, say experts. Viruses are notoriously difficult to predict.
“We’ve all learned over the past few years that if you try to predict Covid, you get a slap in the face,” said Dr. Katie Passaretti, corporate vice president and chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Still, visits to hospital emergency departments for the top virus threats began declining in December, with the decline continuing this month. This is especially true for the flu.
Children got double viral infections
Trying to guess what the flu will do by the end of flu season is “dangerous,” warned Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. “It’s impossible to predict what will happen next.”
As most families already know, the flu and other viruses have hit children particularly hard compared to adults, according to a study released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Schaffner is a co-author, along with Dr. Christine Thomas, a CDC epidemic intelligence officer working with the Tennessee Department of Health.
“We were really excited to see what this year would look like,” said Thomas after several years with almost no flu.
Their report focused on 4,626 people in Tennessee who received a flu test in mid-November. Researchers found that the flu struck early and hit children the hardest. Children were twice as likely to test positive as adults, and they tended to be sicker, especially when infected with multiple viruses at the same time, such as. B. a cold in addition to the flu.
A separate study earlier this week found children hospitalized with Covid had more severe symptoms when they also had another virus.
Children ages 5 and younger are at risk because their tiny immune systems may not have been exposed to many common viruses during the pandemic.
“If you get a dual infection, you tend to get a little sicker, you’re likely to stay in the hospital a little longer,” Schaffner said.
Flu hospitalizations for very young children in Tennessee, at 12.6 per 100,000, have already reached peak levels seen in other severe flu seasons, the new study found. This is similar to what has been reported nationally.
But this season is not over yet. While most flu cases so far have been A strains of the virus, B strains tend to emerge by spring.
“I suspect we’re going to have more bumps in the road this respiratory virus season,” Passaretti said. She was not involved in the new study.
Few tested for flu in the Tennessee report were vaccinated. Only 23% of children and 34% of adults had received their flu shot.
And having influenza A does not provide immunity to the B strain. That means a person can get the flu twice in one season.
“That’s one reason to get vaccinated anyway,” Schaffner said. “Flu probably won’t go away completely until we get into early summer.”
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