After last year's “triple epidemic” of RSV, flu and COVID were reportedly overwhelming healthcare systemsExperts look ahead to the 2023-2024 winter season and make forecasts.
During the 2022–2023 flu season, the CDC estimates that there were about 26 million cases of influenzawith 290,000 hospitalizations and 19,000 related deaths – on top of a surge in RSV and COVID.
When experts make projections for the future, they tend to look at disease trends in the southern hemisphere, where flu season falls between April and September — although the CDC says on its website that “different parts of the world may have different influenza viruses.” . and immunity may differ between populations.”
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dr Marc Siegel, Professor of Medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical worker, expects “another pretty bad flu season.”
He told Fox News Digital: “This year Australia is experiencing an intense flu season and children are being hit hard, which is a bad sign for us.”
dr Gregg Sylvester, chief health officer of the Based in New Jersey Pharmaceutical company CSL Seqirus agreed there could be another spike in flu numbers in the US.
Australia has had early cases this flu season, with case numbers similar to the 2019 season and impacting children particularly badly, Sylvester told Fox News Digital.
“Nearly 70% of all hospital admissions since April have been in people under the age of 16,” he told Fox News Digital.
The early surge in flu activity in Australia has doctors on high alert for what could happen in the US this fall and winter
“While it's impossible to know for sure what this flu season will bring, it's important to be prepared and get vaccinated to protect against serious illness and hospitalization, especially among those most at risk,” he added added.
Will we see another triple pandemic?
Although the fall and winter of 2023-2024 is forecast to be another tough flu season, doctors who spoke to Fox News Digital don't believe there will be another triple pandemic like last year — largely due to the increased immunity among the population and greater availability of vaccines.
“I'm expecting a relative mild COVID season “Because of all the immunity we've built up and because high-risk groups can tolerate a new booster shot that covers the predominant subvariant,” Siegel said.
Edward Liu, MD, chief of the infectious diseases division at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, said RSV played a bigger role in 2022 because the population — particularly children — was not exposed to the virus during the pandemic years.
“After a bad RSV season, I expect more immunity, which will mitigate the spread of the virus in 2023,” he predicted to Fox News Digital.
“This year Australia is experiencing an intense flu season and children are being hit hard, which doesn't bode well for us.”
The new RSV vaccines that are now available approved for childrenolder adults and pregnant women could also stem the spread — although it will take time, Liu noted.
“I think initial uptake will be slow unless there is a surge and fear pushes people to vaccinate earlier,” he said.
Liu expects the number of COVID-19 cases to increase by the fall and that the flu will be active during its usual season – “so it's more likely that we'll have a duodemic rather than a tripledemic,” he predicted.
Who is most at risk?
According to experts, the following groups are most susceptible to serious illness from influenza, RSV and COVID:
- Very young children (flu and RSV)
- The older
- Pregnant woman
- People with pre-existing lung disease and heart disease
- Immunocompromised patients
“While anyone can get the flu, some people are at higher risk of serious flu-related complications,” Sylvester told Fox News Digital.
Adults aged 65 and over suffer from age-related immune declining, making it harder for the body to protect itself from the virus, he warned.
“Children under the age of 5 – even those who are otherwise healthy – are at greater risk because they lack prior immunity,” he said.
“For children as young as 6 months, schools and day care centers are environments where disease transmission is often higher.”
Ways to stop the spread
The doctors agreed Stay up to date on vaccinations is the first line of defense against flu, RSV and COVID – especially for those in high-risk groups.
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For COVID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone ages 6 and older receive an updated Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
People aged 65 and over may receive a second (booster) dose, and people with compromised immune systems may receive additional booster shots.
“An updated COVID vaccine will be available by fall, which will help with the latest variants,” Liu said.
To protect against influenza, the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older receive an annual vaccination.
For most people who only need one dose of the flu vaccine, September and October are the ideal months to get vaccinated.
However, certain groups — including pregnant women in their third trimester or children receiving two doses — can be vaccinated in July and August.
“Adults 65 and older are severely affected by influenza and have higher hospitalization and mortality rates compared to young, healthy adults.”
“People should ask their doctor or pharmacist about getting a flu shot early — before flu season peaks,” Sylvester said. “However, it is never too late to get vaccinated.”
For adults age 65 and older, the CDC also recommends getting a “higher dose or adjuvanted” flu vaccine for added protection.
“Influenza has serious repercussions Adults aged 65 and over with higher hospitalization and death rates compared to young, healthy adults,” said Sylvester.
To protect against RSV lower respiratory tract disease (LRTD), the CDC recommends that all adults age 60 and older receive a single dose of the newly approved vaccine, which is expected to be available in fall 2023.
The CDC also recommends that infants under 8 months and some older babies who are at higher risk get the vaccine.
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The FDA just approved the RSV vaccine pregnant womanHowever, it can take several months before it is available in pharmacies.
In addition to vaccinations, the experts agreed that wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and appropriate testing are effective ways of protecting against seasonal diseases.
“Sick family members should not visit vulnerable family members, especially during the holidays,” Liu added.
Experts hope these preventive measures will help ease the burden on hospitals and clinics during this year's flu season.
“Our healthcare system still hasn't recovered from the pandemic.”
At RSV in particular, Liu pointed out that an increase in case numbers can overwhelm children's hospitals, forcing community hospitals to shoulder some of the burden.
“The problem is that pediatric demand is seasonal and hospital systems don't want to allocate resources to pediatric inpatient care whenever demand is low,” he said.
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“Our healthcare system still hasn't recovered from the pandemic,” Siegel said.
“It's overwhelmed and unprepared,” he added.