Once again, health officials fear there could be a severe flu season on top of a winter surge of COVID-19, only this time with a twist:
High numbers of a third respiratory illness known as RSV could add to the misery, causing what some call a “tripledemia.”
The term was coined because large numbers of respiratory syncytial virus (sin-SISH-uhl), or RSV, are being identified earlier than normal in much of the US. Some parts of the country are also being affected by an early flu season.
This comes on top of predictions that new coronavirus variants will cause another surge of COVID-19, cases of which continue to rise in Clark County, according to new data reported Wednesday.
“This is a concern about bad timing,” said Brian Labus, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the UNLV School of Public Health.
“Any of these things can create a lot of stress in our emergency rooms,” he said. “All three occurring at the same time would put a lot of stress on our medical system.”
RSV first wave
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild cold-like symptoms, with most people recovering within a week or two. However, RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC has seen a recent increase in RSV detections and associated emergency department visits and hospitalizations in various parts of the country, said Kate Grusich, public affairs representative for the CDC.
“Some regions are experiencing near-seasonal levels of circulation, typically occurring in December and January,” Grusich said in an email.
Clark County is seeing a “huge increase” in RSV, said Cassius Lockett, director of disease surveillance and control for the Southern Nevada Health District.
613 RSV cases have been identified this month, compared to 483 last October and between 10 and 40 cases in the previous five Octobers, Lockett said.
In northern Nevada, Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell said she’s seeing more RSV cases than usual at urgent care clinics, many of them in young children.
Most cases are mild to moderate, with cough, runny nose, and fever. “We’re also seeing children who are struggling to breathe,” said Curry-Winchell, St. Mary’s urgent care medical director.
There is no vaccine to prevent RSV and no antiviral medication to treat it. Patients with more severe cases may receive fluids and oxygen.
However, any increase in cases does not appear to be stressing Nevada hospitals.
“Nevada hospitals are not experiencing the strain caused by RSV, flu and COVID that hospitals in other parts of the country are experiencing,” said Jeanne Corbit of the Nevada Hospital Association.
The pediatric hospital’s occupancy is 82 percent this week, which he described as “within the desired range.”
University Medical Center in downtown Las Vegas has seen a “remarkable increase in pediatric patients with RSV and other rhinoviruses,” said Rep. Scott Curbs.
“This is common for the fall season, and the increase in patient volume is not unusual,” he said in an email.
early flu season
Fears of a severe flu season in the US have gone unfulfilled for the past two years, which some officials attribute to ongoing pandemic measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.
Beyond the end of these measures, there are other reasons to worry about the possibility of a more severe season this year, officials said.
There has been significant flu in Australia and elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, where flu season comes months earlier than in the US, and which can help predict what lies ahead in the northern hemisphere.
As in the southern hemisphere this year, some regions of the US are experiencing an earlier than normal start to flu season.
“Early increases in flu activity have been reported across most of the country, with the highest levels of activity occurring in the southeastern and south-central parts of the country,” the CDC’s Grusich said.
However, flu activity has been minimal so far in Clark County, Lockett said. Only two hospitalizations for the flu have been reported in October.
A host of new coronavirus variants showing increased transmission capacity have triggered predictions of another wave of COVID-19 this winter, although some authorities believe it will not match those of previous winters, thanks to built-up immunity from vaccination and previous. infection.
COVID-19 has been on the rise in recent weeks in Clark County and Nevada. The 14-day average of daily new cases in the county was 126 this week, compared to 112 last week, according to data from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. Statewide, the average increased from 151 to 165. These numbers are underestimates due to the increased use of home antigen tests.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 also rose in the county to 111 from 99 last week. Statewide, there were 141, up from 126 last week.
The 14-day average of daily deaths increased from zero to 1 in the state. In the county, the figure remained at zero.
‘Get the damn vaccine’
UNLV family physician Dr. David Weismiller believes COVID-19 cases will spike this winter and fears “the perfect storm.”
But Weismiller, a professor at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, said the community is not helpless in the face of a possible “tripledemia.”
“The conversation we are having today pushes us once again to recognize that vaccines are how we prevent illness, hospitalization and death,” he said.
He acknowledged that he was getting increasingly tired of trying to understand what is stopping people from getting a flu or COVID shot, and said he has had patients walk out of his office rather than talk about their doubts.
His frustration is heightened, he said, by his concern for “war-weary” hospital staff at the end of their ropes.
He claimed to be getting to the point of simply telling patients: “Get the damn vaccine and shut up.”
Contact Mary Hynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0336. To follow @MaryHynes1 On twitter.