Potential ‘tripledemic’ winter: Flu, RSV and COVID-19

If you were to ask someone if they knew anyone sick right now, they would probably say yes. Although we are not in the midst of peak COVID-19 cases like we were in the past few years, other illnesses have been appearing in significantly large amounts.

Flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases have been quickly on the rise this season. This may be attributed to the shift from mask wearing that has been present over recent years, which not only protected individuals from COVID-19 but from other viruses as well.

According to the Washington Post, flu season began six weeks before normal, with a severity greater than it has been in over a decade.

There have already been at least 880,000 cases of influenza illness, 6,900 hospitalizations and 360 flu-related deaths nationally, including one child,” Fenit Nirappil said in the Washington Post.

Several hospitals in San Diego have been hit so hard by flu cases that they resorted to creating tents in parking lots to handle the influx of patients, according to the LA Times. Doctors at these hospitals believe it will be a harsh winter and that this will continue through February.

RSV causes mild cold-like symptoms in adults, but can be potentially life-threatening in children if it goes on to cause pneumonia or bronchitis, according to NPR. Children’s hospitals and emergency rooms are seeing unprecedented numbers of cases and are struggling to efficiently manage them in terms of spacing and resources.

The increase in RSV cases is also thought to be in part due to how many young children were not as exposed to different viruses that help build a strong immune system as a result of quarantine and the pandemic. 

As of Nov. 10, 2022, the Detroit Free Press reported 86% of pediatric ICU beds were filled. At the University of Michigan Health’s C.S Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, patients face wait times spanning long hours while at 100% capacity.

Meanwhile in Grand Rapids, at The Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, there were 42 ICU patients with only 24 beds in the unit. The result is some patients being treated in chairs in hallways. There is no current vaccine available for RSV.

Despite the rising number of cases, vaccination rates are lower than last year for the flu:

According to the CDC, for the 2022-23 season, for adults 18 and older:

  • An estimated 18.7 million flu vaccinations were administered in pharmacies as of the week ending Oct. 15, 2022, compared with an estimated 19.9 million at the same time in Oct. 2021.
  • An estimated 10.7 million flu vaccinations were administered in physician medical offices as of the week ending Oct. 15, 2022, compared with an estimated 14.7 million at the same time in Oct. 2021.

Flu vaccines are available at the Graham Health Center, pharmacies in stores like CVS and Rite Aid and at doctor’s offices and hospitals.