‘Triple-demic’ of RSV, COVID-19 and flu hitting hard in Colorado

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Courtesy Children's Hospital Colorado

Colorado is seeing “unprecedented” transmission levels of RSV, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials say — and with surging COVID and flu, it’s part of a “triple-demic” Colorado hospitals are facing right now.

RSV — respiratory syncytial virus — can be most severe and dangerous for infants and children under 2 years old, although anyone can get it.

The volume of RSV cases (with 144 reported outbreaks in the state since October) is “unusual and severe” compared to the typical RSV season, which tends to peak during the winter, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist for CDPHE.

The number of hospitalizations for RSV is also higher than normal, Herlihy said during a virtual press conference with public health leaders on Nov. 9.

With the added surge of COVID and influenza cases, the “triple-demic” has prompted Colorado hospitals to activate their patient transfer partnership.

Jeff Tieman, president and CEO of the Colorado Hospital Association, said the patient transfer partnership helps hospitals manage capacities and share clinical resources.

Dr. Kevin Carney, associate chief medical officer and pediatric emergency medicine physician for Children’s Hospital Colorado, said the daily number of patients seeking emergency care at the hopsital has been 30 percent higher, on average, than the busiest days of previous respiratory seasons. Those days usually happen from January to March, he said.

“To put it mildly, we are seeing a very early and intense start to both the RSV and flu seasons and our emergency departments and inpatient units are really managing patient volumes like we’ve never seen before,” Carney said during the press conference.

“Our inpatient floors and intensive care units have been functioning at or above their maximum capacity for several weeks and our emergency departments are seeing a record volume of patients.”

Herlihy reported that statewide COVID hospitalization numbers are also trending up; the state recorded 320 hospitalizations on Nov. 8, an increase from 218 the previous week. There are several new sub-variants of the Omicron variant of COVID, which public health officials believe could be driving cases up, along with more indoor activity and transmission that comes with the colder weather, Herlihy said.

For the flu, 92 people were hospitalized the week of Nov. 9, an increase from 49 the previous week, Herlihy said. Flu is currently spreading at lower levels than COVID and RSV, but is trending upwards, and hospitalization levels are higher now than at this point in the flu season during previous years, she said.

Looking Out For RSV

RSV can cause symptoms similar to COVID and flu, such as a runny nose, loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing, and these are usually mild in healthy adults, Herlihy said. But for infants and young children, adults over 65 years old and immunocompromised people, the illness can be very serious.

“Something that feels like a cold — that exact same virus can go on to cause severe illness in someone else,” Herlihy said. “A mild infection in me or you can translate to a life-threatening infection in a young child or an older adult.”

Carney encouraged parents to call their child’s doctor if they are sick, or suspected to have RSV, to determine whether they can be seen in a doctor’s office or should seek emergency care.

He and Herlihy shared ways people can prevent spreading the respiratory illnesses — washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a mask when symptomatic and staying home from school, work and gatherings when sick. Carney also urged adults and kids to get vaccinated for COVID and flu, and for parents to ensure their children are up-to-date on their scheduled vaccinations.

“Local families and hospital emergency rooms continue to get hit very hard right now with RSV and COVID-19 — and very soon, influenza — and it’s not showing signs of stopping,” he said. It’s important for all of us to be aware of this to help protect the most vulnerable members of our community which include our children.

Find information and resources from Children’s Hospital Colorado about RSV and getting care here.

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