A trio of viruses are on the rise, leading some experts to warn of a “triple epidemic” of COVID-19, influenza and the much lesser-known RSV.
Respiratory syncytial virus is a virus of the upper respiratory tract, and cases in Europe, America and Israel are increasing rapidly. The Health The ministry reported on Thursday that over the past week, the number of patients hospitalized with RSV has jumped 31%. Since early October, 696 people have been hospitalized with RSV, including 229 in the past week.
Most children catch RSV in their first two or three years, but parents normally don’t give it a name and just say their kids “don’t feel well” or “have a virus”.
As with COVID, the concern is when it hits vulnerable people. For young babies, the elderly, and people with health complications, it can cause more serious illnesses such as infection of the lungs, bronchiolitis, inflammation of the small airways in the lungs, and pneumonia. RSV causes more cases of bronchiolitis and pneumonia before the age of 1 year than any other pathogen.
Normally, morbidity is spread out and hospitals can easily handle the flood of severe cases that filters through. But there’s a sudden surge right now, and it comes during a winter when hospitals are also grappling with two other major respiratory illnesses – COVID-19 and the flu.
“Israel is now experiencing what we have already seen in North America and other places, with the increase in RSV,” senior pediatrician Professor Moshe Ashkenazi, deputy director of the hospital, told The Times of Israel. for children at Sheba Medical Center. . “It is spreading more violently than in previous years.
“People shouldn’t panic, but they should be aware that this is a dangerous virus for young babies, especially premature babies, and for children with heart and lung disease.”
What makes RSV the odd one out alongside influenza and COVID-19 is the availability of vaccines. These last two viruses have easily accessible and inexpensive vaccines for health care providers. “There is a vaccine for RSV, but it is only given to those most at risk because it is a special injection of antibodies given in five injections and costs $20,000 to $30,000 per person, per season.
It’s unclear why RSV is rising now, after declining during the height of the COVID pandemic. But medical experts strongly believe that masking and social distancing mean people have been exposed to fewer viruses than normal and therefore now have reduced immunity.
“There is a theory that we have been masked for a long time and we have not been exposed to regular viruses as we normally would have been, and therefore general virus immunity levels are low,” said Ashkenazi. “Now that masks are worn less, RSV is spreading more.”
Science supports the theory that masks could have kept RSV at bay. Like COVID, it spreads largely via droplets from an infected person – normally their cough or sneeze – entering someone else’s airways.
The World Health Organization and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control have just highlighted the threat of RSV alongside COVID and influenza. “RSV has been on the increase since October, with about 20 countries and regions experiencing increased RSV activity,” they said in a joint statement.
“COVID-19 case rates, hospital and intensive care unit admissions, and death rates are currently low compared to the past 12 months, but this may change as new variants emerge. and that the disease continues to strain health care resources,” the statement said.
“With the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact on circulation and health from other respiratory pathogens, it is difficult to predict how the new winter period will develop.”
Ashkenazi said RSV normally begins with a cough and runny nose, sometimes accompanied by sneezing, fever and/or an impact on appetite.
“On a practical level, if people have something more serious than a runny nose, they should stay home or protect their surroundings by wearing a mask,” he said.
By the time symptoms appear, people may have been contagious for a day or two. They normally stay contagious for three to eight days – in some cases longer.
Ashkenazi said when symptoms are mild, people who aren’t at high risk don’t normally need to see a doctor. However, if there is a “red flag”, they should take a home coronavirus test to rule out COVID-19 and see a doctor if negative.
“Red flags include shortness of breath, inability to sleep due to a cough, cough with a large amount of phlegm, or a change in mental status,” he said. “The best thing we can do is to vaccinate against the viruses for which we have vaccines – flu and COVID – in order to reduce the cases of respiratory illnesses as much as possible. »
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