By Amy Schoenfeld Walker

After two difficult Covid winters, the current season of respiratory sickness already rivals some of the worst cold and flu seasons on record — and it started about two months early.

Percent of weekly doctor and hospital visits for respiratory illness

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Note: The data includes people infected with influenza, R.S.V., the coronavirus and other respiratory viruses but is not a complete measure of the scope of these infections. The most recent weeks of data generally lag while reports come in. The weeks ending Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 are excluded because of this underreporting.

R.S.V., or respiratory syncytial virus, has made so many young children ill this fall that weekly pediatric hospitalizations for R.S.V. are the highest recorded. Influenza, which normally peaks in February, has driven up hospitalization rates to the highest level for this time of year in more than a decade, surpassing hospitalizations from Covid-19. And while Covid illness is lower than it was the last two Decembers, it, too, is climbing.

Public health officials have been warning for weeks that a “tripledemic” of Covid-19, flu and R.S.V. would strain an already weary health care system. Hospitalizations from the three viruses have been rising together. Nationally, R.S.V. appears to have peaked, and flu is peaking in a few parts of the country, but infections from the two viruses are expected to plateau at high levels.

Weekly hospitalizations for Covid-19, R.S.V. and flu

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Note: The most recent weeks of data generally lag while reports come in. The weeks ending Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 are excluded because of this underreporting.

Experts say it is difficult to estimate the severity of the rest of this season because the coronavirus pandemic disrupted somewhat predictable patterns for other respiratory diseases.

“There’s a whole lot of winter left,” said Richard Webby, a virologist at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. “Certainly there’s lots of time for another Covid wave, and even enough potentially for another version of flu.”

The country has already faced two record-breaking seasons under Covid, which disproportionately affected older Americans, but the return of R.S.V. and flu this year means that some of the burden of illness has shifted to the country’s youngest — and their families.

Weekly hospitalizations for R.S.V. among children are the highest they have been since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began its surveillance in the 2018-19 season. Roughly one in every 70 babies 6 months and younger have been hospitalized since the beginning of October, according to preliminary estimates.

Link to article in The New York Times by Amy Walker

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