Over the past two years, Thanksgiving has helped welcome some very unwelcome guests: The devastating waves of COVID-19.
No one expected this year to be like the past two dark pandemic winters, at least when it comes to COVID-19. But the country is now dealing with a different kind of threat – an unpredictable combination of old and new respiratory pathogens.
“We are facing an onslaught of three viruses — COVID, RSV and influenza. All of them are happening at the same time,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. “We’re calling this the triple plague.”
Flu and RSV are back, critical time
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) started spike earlier this year, infecting infants and young children with little or no immunity to that virus, which has not circulated much in the past two years, partly due to preventive measures COVID-19.
RSV’s revival still flooding pediatric emergency rooms and intensive care units nationwide. Some parents are forced to wait more than eight hours in the emergency room to receive treatment for their sick children.
“The intensive care units are at or above capacity at every children’s hospital in the United States right now,” said Knight AmyPresident of the Children’s Hospital Association. “It’s very, very scary for parents.”
At the same time, an early and severe abnormality flu season is on the rise, mainly due to the H3N2 strain, which often strikes particularly severely in children and the elderly.
“The flu has hit the southeastern United States. It’s moving to the Southwest. It’s making its way up the East Coast and into the Midwest with some degree of intensity,” Schaffner said.
From coast to coast, flu hospitalizations are at their highest this time of year in a decade, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Currently flu activity is at a high level and is continuing to increase,” said Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s influenza division. “The good news is that this year’s vaccine is good–matches the viruses currently circulating and there is still time to get a vaccine.”
But now comes another Thanksgiving.
“These holiday celebrations with all their travel and close contact often act as virus accelerators,” says Schaffner. “We spend a lot of time together. We laugh and breathe deeply. And it’s the ideal environment for these respiratory viruses to spread to other people.”
What will COVID do this time?
Of course, COVID-19 still sickening tens of thousands of people and killing hundreds every day. And the new, even more contagious omicron auxiliary variable especially good at infecting people — even if they’ve been vaccinated or previously infected — taking over.
“There are a lot of moving parts here,” says Dr. David Rubinwho is monitoring the pandemic at the Policy Lab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“What will all of this mean for COVID? Will we see a resurgence of COVID in January/February, that’s going to be pretty severe isn’t it? That could be It hasn’t happened yet.”
Many infectious disease experts say the immunity people get from vaccinations and infections will prevent any new spike in COVID-19 infections that cause a massive increase in cases. hospitalization and death.
“I hope, given our current situation with COVID, that we won’t be looking at something like last winter. But at the end of the day, Mother Nature will make the final decision on what to expect. this,” said Dr. Ashish JhaWhite House COVID-19 coordinator, told NPR.
“We’re in new territory here,” he said, with the three viruses all circulating at high levels simultaneously.
“I think it’s a really worrying situation in the coming weeks,” said Jennifer Nuzzoan epidemiologist who runs the Pandemic Center at Brown University.
Nuzzo is worried because an exhausted nation that has abandoned many of the precautions people are taking to protect themselves and others. The flu vaccination rate is down about 10% to 15% compared to previous years. Only about 11% of those eligible for the newly boosted divalent omicron boosters.
“We can’t be resigned to assuming that’s going to happen no matter what,” she said. “We can very well take action to prevent an increase in hospitalizations and deaths.”
Nuzzo and other experts say Americans can get vaccinated and boosted, especially if they are at high risk for the disease due to age or other health problems.
People should consider Zooming for Thanksgiving if they are sick, get tested for COVID-19 before gathering (especially gatherings with elderly friends and relatives and other vulnerable people) , and even consider wearing that mask again as much as possible.
“If you’re not eating or drinking it’s probably a smart idea to protect immunocompromised people, infants as well as older members of the family,” Dr. Tina Tanan infectious disease specialist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
There are suggestions that RSV may have peaked, and that the flu could also peak early, before any new COVID-19 outbreaks emerge. That should help relieve at least some of the pressure on hospitals.
It’s even theoretically possible that the flu and RSV could stave off any new COVID-19 outbreaks in the same way that the coronavirus has killed them off over the past two years. A possibility is a phenomenon called “virus interference,” associated with the presence of one virus reducing the risk of infection with another.
“COVID could be overtaken, which could be good news,” says Rubin.