By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are three of Virginians’ favorite holidays as people are joining family and friends to celebrate and party.
At the same time, medical officials are sounding the alarm about what they call the “Tri-demic” or ‘Tripledemic, of cases of infections and hospitalizations due to COVID, the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and Influenza.
State and federal health officials have recorded an increase in all three since the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, especially Influenza which traditionally surges during the fall and winter.
RSV attacks mostly children under 5 years of age, especially those who were born prematurely. In seven states 90 percent of the pediatric beds are filled due to it.
The CDC and state officials believe the rate of RSV infection has leveled and slowed down.
However, influenza is seeing a sharp spike nationally and in Virginia.
The CDC has reported at least 14 children have already died from the flu this year. Hospitalizations from the flu are the highest they’ve been this time of year in a decade.
And now, a new COVID surge appears to be erupting, throwing the thirdelement of a dangerous respiratory trifecta into the mix. After percolating at a high plateau for months, the number of people catching COVID and getting so sick that they’re ending up in a hospital has started rising again.
In the past week, according to the CDC, there has been an expected rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationally after the Thanksgiving holiday. This rise in cases and hospitalizations is especially worrisome as people assemble indoors with less ventilation and gather with loved ones across multiple generations.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters at a briefing last week, that this year’s influenza season is well underway with the flu spreading fast in at least 47 jurisdictions.
“Hospitalizations for flu continue to be the highest we have seen at this time of year in a decade,” said Dr. Walensky in a recent briefing, with Reuters.
She said the CDC estimates there have been 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 deaths from the flu this season.
Over 20,000 people were hospitalized last week for the flu, according to the CDC — nearly double the numbers from the week prior.
Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association fears many family gatherings could turn into super spreader events for all three of the viruses.
“Flu is here,” she said. “It started early, and with COVID and RSV also circulating, it’s a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season.”
Dr. Brooke Rosheim is a Public Health Physician, at the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Central office in Richmond.
Rossheim said while there is the predictable rise in Influenza, COVID, and RSV are seeing spikes as well in all regions, including, Hampton Roads.
He said at one point in its height of infection in 2020 over 20,000 cases a day of COVID/Omicron were reported a day in Virginia. But it dropped significantly.
Today, roughly 1400 cases are reported per day in Virginia, and slightly rising.
Rossheim noted that the state’s hospitals have not been overburdened by COVID or flu infections as of yet.
But the rate of people going being treated by their Primary Care Physicians (PCP) or in Emergency Rooms for what medical experts are calling Influenza Like Illnesses (ILI) is rising.
He said ILI involves an individual having a high fever, cough, congestion, and nasal dripping. All four symptoms could indicate infections by COVID, Influenza, or RSV. The only way to determine which of the three a patient has contracted is by testing.
Rossheim said that people with compromised immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS or diabetes and other chronic illnesses are most vulnerable.
“But as we get deeper into the holiday season and the winter we will see more of all three viruses,” said Rossheim. “Although there is not one for RSV yet, there are still vaccines for Flu and COVID and they are very effective in fighting it.”
The fear is that the nation’s beleaguered hospitals could get overwhelmed yet again, state and federal health officials say.
Rossheim and other medical professionals are urging people to get vaccinated and continue washing hands, and masking, especially around babies, older people, and other people prone to serious complications.
“Stay home when you’re sick. Share your love by not sharing your sickness,” Fryhofer said. “This holiday season, please get vaccinated. It’s the best way to protect yourself. It’s the best way to protect your loved ones. And it’s the best way to protect your community.
Rosheim said it is not too late to get a flu shot and one of the new bivalent omicron boosters.
This year’s flu vaccine appears to be a good match for the most common strains that are spreading.
Photo by RF._.studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/ethnic-woman-in-protective-mask-and-gloves-on-sidewalk-4177656/