SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — It’s very early on in flu season and Georgia has the highest rate of infection in the country, according to CDC data. Health experts are now warning about a triple threat of illnesses with rising cases of the flu, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and COVID-19.
Savannah doctors say they’re already seeing this play out in local hospitals.
Dr. Tim Connelly, an internal medicine physician at Memorial Health, explained that the Coastal Empire is likely seeing an early and active flu season and a rise in RSV because masking and social distancing over the past two years reduced exposure to the viruses.
“I’m very concerned about people who have no immunity, meaning that they’ve either not been vaccinated or not exposed to the virus in the past few years and then they get multiple respiratory viruses at one time,” Connelly said. “That almost always leads to a very bad presentation and a very high severity of illness and can be life-threatening.”
Experts were already predicting a bad flu season based on how it spread in Australia. In the past week, four people were hospitalized at Memorial for the flu, officials said.
Meanwhile, at the children’s hospital, they’re seeing that many patients daily with RSV and the flu, leaving them close to capacity.
“This is around the time where we should be seeing this many patients,” said Dr. Michael Bossak, director of pediatric medicine at Memorial Children’s Hospital. “It’s just that now we are seeing that on top of the flu, on top of COVID and therefore it’s becoming this issue of bed capacity and space for everyone.”
Bossak explained RSV previously spiked in the summer and it appears we’re heading towards another. The respiratory virus can cause congestion, runny nose and wheezing.
“The younger you are, the worse that’s going to be,” Bossak said. “Add to that a flu that is significantly more virulent this year and seems to have a lot more effect on children. From a respiratory standpoint, you’re seeing just a lot more patients in the hospital requiring ventilatory support, requiring respiratory support that is making it more difficult for us to move patients through.”
Doctors say COVID-19 cases are also starting to rise again, leaving them concerned about the threat of a “tripledemic” of respiratory viruses.
“I think those new variants will come and I don’t think COVID is ever going to go away,” Connelly said. “I think we’re moving away from a pandemic and more into an endemic when it comes to COVID-19. But right now we have an endemic of both flu, COVID-19 and RSV, so we have to deal with all three of those now.”
Kids under 6 months old can not get the flu vaccine and are most prone to the virus, Bossak said. Because of that, doctors recommend getting your flu shot to help protect the youngest population. In addition, experts say washing your hands and staying away from other people while you’re sick can help slow the spread of respiratory viruses.