SALT LAKE CITY – What flu season? Doctors with Intermountain Healthcare say the efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 are having an extremely strong impact on the spread of other respiratory problems like influenza and RSV, making our usual flu season practically non-existent, this year. That may seem like good news, but doctors say it could lead to a very big problem in the near future.
Intermountain Healthcare officials are calling it “unheard of” and an “unprecedented plummet” of pediatric influenza and RSV cases. Infectious disease doctor Andrew Pavia says Primary Children’s Hospital would normally be filled with infants and toddlers sickened with RSV this time of year.
“Normally, we average about 80 a week. In a really bad year, it might be 120 hospitalizations a week,” Pavia says.
This year, there have been zero… yes, zero RSV hospitalizations and only one child admitted to the hospital for influenza, and Pavia says he has never seen a drop in cases quite like this. The CDC is reporting only 1,400 confirmed cases of influenza across the entire country, and Pavia says we would normally have seen over 500 thousand cases by now, nationwide.
Pavia believes things like wearing masks, social distancing and good hygiene are some of the factors in this drop. But, if those measures were so successful in slowing the spread of RSV and the flu, why did we see cases of COVID-19 spike in 2020? Pavia says they aren’t 100 percent certain why this is happening, but they have a theory.
He says, “Viruses interfere with each other. When one virus ‘dominates the jungle’ it forces all the other animals out, essentially,” Pavia says. “We don’t have a lot of good evidence for that. It’s only a theory.”
However, big problems could be in store for next winter. Pavia says these respiratory problems aren’t going away. In fact, when the viruses do return, Pavia expects them to come roaring back in very high numbers.
“It’s very likely that when flu and RSV have been away for a while you have more people fully susceptible to it,” he says.
Pavia points to the current RSV situation in Australia. That country has loosened some of its travel restrictions and safety recommendations after a drop in COVID-19 cases, and RSV is making a strong comeback, there.
“They’re seeing a huge surge in RSV, higher than they have in any normal year. What’s even stranger is the really high surge is that it’s happening in the middle of the Australian summer,” Pavia says.
Pavia believes mask wearing could become a very common thing in the US during the flu season. He says that practice has significantly slowed the spread of respiratory viruses in Asia.
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