RSV surge creates risk of 'tripledemic'

An unseasonably early and severe surge of respiratory syncytial virus is overwhelming children's hospitals and boosting the risk of a so-called "tripledemic," alongside flu and COVID-19, The New York Times reported Oct. 23.

Hospitals typically see a jump in RSV cases in late winter. This year, cases began appearing this summer and have steadily risen since, creating significant capacity issues at children's hospitals across the country. 

"We're seeing a peak in cases right now," former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, told CBS' Face the Nation on Oct. 23. "Some people ascribe it to the fact that children have been somewhat removed from these circulating pathogens, so you don't have as much immunity in the population generally. So it's changed the typical cycle for this virus."

Flu season is also off to an early start in the U.S., with 1,674 new flu hospitalizations reported in the week ending Oct. 15, according to CDC data. Health experts have warned that this flu season may be severe based on trends from the Southern hemisphere's flu season, along with the fact that fewer people are masking and social distancing. Diminished public health precautions — combined with the rise of new, highly transmissible omicron subvariants — also suggest an uptick in COVID-19 cases is likely this winter.

"You've got this waning COVID immunity, coinciding with the impact of the flu coming along here, and RSV," Andrew Read, PhD, an evolutionary microbiologist at State College, Pa.-based Penn State University, told the Times. "We're in uncharted territory here."

Although U.S. hospitals have never braved a flu, COVID-19 and RSV surge at the same time, leaders from systems such as Cleveland Clinic and Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic told Becker's that the last four COVID-19 surges have left them well-prepared to respond to whatever capacity challenges may surface this winter. 


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