Gee, now that many folks are no longer wearing face masks or maintaining social distancing, take a wild guess as to what’s happening with respiratory illnesses among kids? Well, if you guessed that a surge in kids getting hospitalized with respiratory illnesses is occurring, you’d be right, right like a reality show fight. After two years of being held in check due to Covid-19 precautions, respiratory viruses like the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the influenza virus, and, of course, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are seeing a lot clearer lanes to your and your kids’ respiratory tracts and lungs.
Here’s an ABC News World News Tonight segment on reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about this surge in respiratory illness-related hospitalizations among children under 5 years of age:
As you can see, the news segment called this surge “alarming,” which seems like a reasonable word, certainly more appropriate than “cute” or “cool.” This surge has in turn pushed some children’s hospitals to their capacities. For example, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) tweeted about what’s happening in the Washington, DC-area:
And this CBS News Los Angeles report mentioned hospitals in the Los Angeles area being on high alert with beds filling up much earlier in the respiratory-illness-Fall-Winter season than usual:
Hospitals on high alert? Hitting capacity? Sound familiar? Does 2022 sound a little like 2020 too? This had some on social media wondering whether the U.S. really learned much from 2020. For example, Tatiana Prowell, MD, an Associate Professor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, tweeted out the following:
As they say, those who don’t remember history are destined to repeat it.
The current respiratory illness surge should be about as surprising to real public health experts as the 2022 Crypto Crash was to anyone who understands, you know, typical human behavior. During the Winter of 2020-2021 and to a lesser degree the Winter of 2021-2022, many people wore face masks while indoors in public and tried to stay at least one Harry Styles (about six feet) apart from everyone else. That seemed to have the secondary benefits of reducing the spread of other respiratory viruses such as RSV and the flu. That all changed in 2022 when many politicians and personalities have tried to make it seem like everything’s “returned to normal,” whatever that means. Heck, U.S. President Joe Biden even said in mid-September that the Covid-19 pandemic is over when no virus and no real public health expert seemed to agree with him. This whole fake-it-until-you-make-it attitude towards the pandemic has left the U.S. potentially ill-prepared to handle a surge in hospitalizations due to respiratory illnesses. Sound familiar.
Now you may say that’s easier to get down with RSV because it is more of a “you know me” virus than SARS-CoV-2 was in 2020. Sure RSV has been around for much longer than the SARS-CoV-2. Sure RSV is not going to be causing a pandemic this year. But that doesn’t mean that RSV is a happy fun virus. It’s not like Jennifer Lawrence. It won’t say, “If I don’t have anything to do all day, I might not even put my pants on.” Instead, RSV can cause severe illness and even death in those with weaker immune systems such as older adults and younger children, as I covered in June 2021 for Forbes. Each year on, you can blame RSV for an average of 58,000 hospitalizations and 100 to 500 deaths among children younger than 5 years of age. And kids that young may not be able to tell you that they are really sick. An infant less than six months of age may not be able to say, “hey, can you stop watching Tucker Carlson Tonight for a second and take me to the hospital?” Instead, you need to watch for symptoms such as irritability, poor feeding, lethargy, or trouble breathing, which incidentally could occur in general when watching a show like Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Flu is similar in that it can also cause severe, life-threatening outcomes in older adults and younger children. It’s a respiratory virus as well but is not the same as either RSV or SARS-CoV-2.
The RSV and flu viruses are two or more reasons to maintain Covid-19 precautions in the coming months. There are vaccines to help protect you and your kids against Covid-19 and influenza. However, there presently no RSV vaccine. That’s why you should continue to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Lather up with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, which is about how long it takes to get through the first chorus of the DiVinyls song, “I Touch Myself.” Speaking of touching yourself, stop touching your gigantic face no matter how much of a gravitational pull it has on your fingers and hands. Try to social distance as much as you can. Keep surfaces clean and disinfected, including your life-sized Harry Styles statue and the bowl that you are using to serve it salad dressing. Stay home when you are sick in any way.
A tweet from Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, the Director of the CDC, did emphasize some of these respiratory illness precaution measures. But interestingly Walensky did not mention face mask or good air filtration as Kimberly Prather, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICECCI) and Distinguished Professor at the University of California-San Diego pointed out on Twitter:
Why not advise people to wear a face mask when indoors in public? Is it really that important for people to have the freedom to end up infecting kids with a potentially deadly virus?
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