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As RSV Cases Surge, Experts Warn of America’s Worsening ‘Tripledemic’

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After 2.5 years of a pandemic, we should all know the drill to avoid respiratory illness.

Respiratory illnesses are sweeping the nation, overwhelming hospitals, causing kids to miss school, and keeping adults home from work.

The culprit? Covid. And respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). And the flu. 

“We’re facing an onslaught of three viruses—Covid, RSV and influenza. All simultaneously,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, recently told NPR. “We’re calling this a tripledemic.”

Young children are especially vulnerable to RSV, which is a respiratory virus that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Like coronavirus, it spreads through respiratory droplets. The most common symptoms are congestion, coughing, decreased appetite, fever, sneezing, and wheezing. While RSV was first identified in 1956 and has since been recognized as one of the most common childhood illnesses, this year’s caseload is particularly high.

During the calendar week ending November 19, 2022, the rate of children ages 0-4 hospitalized for RSV was 36.3 per 100,000, compared to less than half that number last year. The rate of RSV was a particularly low 0.1 per 100,000 in 2020, when many children were kept home due to the pandemic, but this year’s numbers are also far higher than the 9.6 per 100,000 RSV rate seen in 2019, according to CDC data.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS Face the Nation‘s Margaret Brennan that the uptick in cases had raised the status of the outbreak to an emergency. “In some regions of the country, we’re seeing that the hospital system for pediatrics are at the point of almost being overwhelmed,” he said Sunday.

Schools are reporting record absences and even choosing to close in some areas, as many of their teachers have fallen ill, too. By early November, at least 21 school districts in Kentucky had to temporarily close in-person schooling due to illness, according to a count by the Kentucky School Boards Association.

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