Doctors across the country are reporting an early and dramatic rise in respiratory illnesses, and many children’s hospitals say they are running out of beds.
Almost three quarters of beds in pediatric hospitals are occupied, according to national data compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services. Children’s hospitals are full in some areas, including the Washington, D.Cand Boston areas.
Several viruses are behind the increase. As Ars previously reported, health officials have warned of a surge in adenovirus and enterovirus, both common respiratory viruses in children. An enterovirus called EV-D68 has been linked to a polio-like neurological disease called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) in young children, and health officials are bracing for a later spike in AFM cases. So far the CDC has never experienced such an increase this autumn.
However, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates an exploding rate of RSV cases.Respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus. RSV is a common respiratory infection that causes common cold symptoms in most people but can become life-threatening in a small percentage of cases, particularly in infants and young children with specific underlying health conditions.
RSV tends to increase later in the winter, with peaks in the last few years before the pandemic in late December. But the spread of the virus began to rise in late summer this year and cases are now high, with the last weekly case count from October 15 around over 7,000corresponding CDC data. The peak of RSV cases in 2021 saw weekly counts, mostly around 4,000.
And RSV isn’t the only virus getting an early start this fall. The flu cycle is also getting off to an unusually strong start, and officials fear it could also be a particularly bad flu season.
The rapid rise of cold-weather viruses has experts doubling down on calls for flu shots and COVID-19 boosters. Although reported cases of COVID-19 show no signs of a dramatic rebound, the use of home testing makes official case counts difficult to interpret, and experts believe a winter wave of COVID-19 is on the horizon, if not already beginning.
“I think now is a reasonable time to not only get the COVID booster, the new bivalent vaccine, but also the flu vaccine,” said former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb a Sunday interview on CBS News’ Face the nation. “At the moment the flu cases are piling up. It looks like this could be a more aggressive flu season. The current dominant strain is H3N2 and the vaccine appears to be a good fit for the strain.” So the vaccine looks like it will be “quite protective,” he said, and now is “a good time to get it “.
Experts speculate why this fall and winter will be so harsh that it is a combination of pandemic-related disruptions. The global explosion in SARS-CoV-2 transmission, subsequent lockdowns and efforts to contain the pandemic disrupted the normal transmission cycles of garden-type respiratory viruses. In addition, the respite from common viruses has created a larger than average pool of vulnerable young children as well as adults with waning immunity from previous exposures.
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