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Why Are so Many People Getting Sick?

Health

The CDC estimates that approximately 14 million Americans have contracted influenza. | Image by Corbis, The Wall Street Journal

North Texans are experiencing a surge in sniffles this holiday season as the region battles an onslaught of sickness brought on by the “tripledemic” of RSV, the flu, and COVID-19. In November, Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) reported a spike in the flu on top of already high rates of RSV and COVID-19. As none of these illnesses are new, what is driving the outbreak?

This month began much the same. On December 2, the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council said they witnessed a 30% jump in flu hospitalizations and a 70% increase in COVID admissions. The council also said pediatric hospitals had reached nearly 99% capacity.

Nationally, as of late last month, COVID-19 cases were high but stable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. registered roughly 300,000 new cases over the week leading into December. As for influenza, the CDC estimates that approximately 14 million Americans have contracted the illness, with upwards of 8,400 deaths attributed to the virus.

Dr. Andy Pekosz, a virologist and professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg Scholl of Public Health, suspects the surge in sickness stems from multiple years of limited “virus circulation.” Pekosz does not directly blame years of masking and social distancing because it appears our immune systems have not weakened. Had pandemic isolation and masking collectively diminished immunity, Dr. Pekosz explained, we would expect an uptick in death rates from illnesses like RSV.

People are getting sick, but “it certainly seems like everybody is recovering,” said Pekosz. “There’s not a really high increase in, let’s say, the mortality rate with the flu so far,” he added.

RSV has climbed back into the headlines amid inundated hospital wards. Typically, the virus is hardest on babies who have not had the luxury of time to build immunity. Adults, however, are also contracting RSV in large numbers this season.

“People have not been exposed to RSV as much, so their bodies have likely stopped making the antibodies,” said Dr. Jim Scott, Dean of Touro University California College of Pharmacy. Scott explained that our immune systems can fight the virus, but antibody production requires time to “ramp up.”

Of course, years of masking and isolation not only slowed the spread of COVID-19 but would have also contributed to suppressing the proliferation of RSV and influenza. With restrictions lifted, the opportunity for transmission has risen, likely partly responsible for the high rates of illness currently experienced in North Texas.

According to Pekosz, “It’s a normal process that we see here. It’s just that without seeing it for three years, we now have this large bounce back to bring us back to equilibrium.”

Medical professionals recommend keeping your kids home from school if they are sick. It is also helpful to “Teach them to cough into their elbows and sneeze into their hands and then wash their hand immediately afterward[s],” said Dr. Laura Romano of Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth.

To help with the “tripledemic,” the Fort Worth Independent School District has dropped the requirement for an immediate doctor’s note. Instead, Fort Worth ISD recommends reporting the absence and obtaining a note within five days of the child returning to school.

Dr. Catherine Frank with the Pediatric Healthcare Associates of McKinney said that parents should contact their pediatrician for any treatment questions and not be alarmed by a fever. Trips to the emergency room, explained McKinney, should be reserved for severe symptoms, like difficulty breathing.

“Fever is in some ways beneficial… It’s the body trying to fight whatever infection is there and to not let the actual temperature scare them,” said Frank.

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Robert Neumuller
Robert Neumuller
1 month ago

If the expert was right, then you would expect states such as Florida and Texas to not have major increases in these infections since they removed restrictions over a year ago. What are the individual state statistics?