Experts recommend taking health precautions as ‘triple-demic’ causes spike in hospitalizations

Hospitalizations are on the rise again as people across the nation face a ‘triple-demic,’ which brings high rates of the flu, RSV and COVID.
Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 5:06 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Hospitalizations are on the rise again as people across the nation face a ‘triple-demic,’ which brings high rates of the flu, RSV and COVID.

Now, with the holidays underway, health officials are urging people to take precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones from severe illness.

The flu and RSV were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with fewer large gatherings and more people regularly wearing masks. Now, that’s causing those viruses to spike outside of the seasons they’re typically seen, and at more severe levels.

For example, in 2020, there were very few RSV cases, and in 2021, those cases came over the summer rather than during the virus’s typical winter months. Now, RSV is coming back still slightly earlier than usual and causing severe illness and hospitalization in toddlers who have never been exposed to the virus. Before the pandemic, the most severe cases of RSV were in infants.

Officials with Novant Health say while it appears overall infection rates are going down, hospitalizations are remaining the same.

In addition to young children, adults over 65 and those with chronic health conditions are the most affected. David Priest, an infectious diseases specialist with Novant Health, said 85% of those in the hospital with COVID are over 65, but only around a third of that population has received the most recent booster vaccine.

“As we’re headed into the holidays and we have plans to travel or gather with friends and family, you’re more protected if you’ve received the updated booster than not, and it’s not too late to get boosted,” Priest said. “If you’re over the age of 65, now is the time to get that booster because you’re far more vulnerable to getting that COVID infection and its serious complications.”

Health officials are also urging people to consider practicing health precautions as they did during the pandemic, like masking and social distancing.

Masking isn’t mandated in the Wilmington area, and Priest said it’s important for individuals to choose whether to wear a mask based on their risk factors for severe illness.

“If you’re an older adult in particular, particularly an older adult who has not had a booster who has other health care problems potentially, if you’re going to be in spaces with large groups of people, enclosed, inside during the winter months with poor ventilation, you ought to consider wearing a mask in that setting, and I think we need to respect the wishes of people who want to and don’t want to in those public settings,” Priest said.

The spike in illness has also created a shortage of medications in some areas. Priest said so far the health system has not seen a shortage of Tamiflu to treat influenza.

Eugene Daugherty, director of Novant’s Hemby Children’s Hospital, also advised parents to seek advice from their pediatrician if they are worried about their child’s health. He said if a child experiences difficulty breathing or their lips become an abnormal color, they should be taken to the hospital.

“The most important thing when your child has flu, RSV, whatever, is to make sure they stay hydrated and to make sure they don’t get worse,” Daugherty said.

Novant Health facilities are limiting visitors in their facilities right now. New Hanover Regional Medical Center and other Novant hospitals are asking no children under 12 to visit hospitalized patients at this time because children are so susceptible to contracting and passing along the viruses.

However, officials say the current spike in cases is manageable at this point, and it has not come close to the overwhelming demand hospitals experienced during COVID spikes in 2020 and 2021.

“We have plenty of resources for adult beds. At times during the pandemic, we had seven, eight times the number of patients we have now, so it’s not been an issue,” he said. “We have enough staffing and we certainly have enough beds to handle the respiratory illnesses in adults currently.”