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Healthcare Strains Amid the Triple-Tsunami: COVID, Flu, and RSV Wash Over U.S Hospitals

As U.S healthcare systems grapple with a new inbound wave of illnesses, hospitals are witnessing familiar scenarios of the triple-pronged epidemic re-emerge. A combination of the flu, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and COVID-19, known as the trifecta or triple-demic, has escalated the burden on medical facilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), admissions related to these respiratory diseases have spiked dramatically in recent weeks. This surge, coupled with high occupancy rates in children’s hospitals – nearly matching last year’s figures – poses significant stress on the already strained healthcare resources.

Hospitalizations tied to influenza have increased by a staggering 200%, while those linked to COVID-19 and RSV have experienced surges of 51% and 60% respectively over the past four weeks. The CDC data revealed an increase in emergency department visits attributed to the triple-demic, with figures rising from 100,000 on November 18 to over 172,000 for the week ending December 16.

As the situation remains fluid, the CDC cautions potential system strains that could delay patient care. Fearing further strain, some healthcare facilities have already adopted stringent policies affecting visitor numbers and mask requirements. Health providers are being encouraged to dispense antiviral medications to eligible patients and ramp up efforts for flu and COVID-19 immunization. For instance, health systems like Novant Health in North Carolina and UPMC in Pennsylvania, enacted new visitor restrictions to mitigate viral transmission. Simultaneously, they stressed the importance of masks, with UPMC making it mandatory across its hospitals, clinics, outpatient centers, and care facilities.

Meanwhile, at Wisconsin’s UW Health and Tacoma, Washington’s MultiCare Health System, mask mandates are in place, and visitors exuding illness symptoms are advised not to visit. Additionally, the latter has specifically banned visitors 12 years old and younger from its inpatient hospital floors or observation units at Detroit Medical Center. The rising threat of the JN.1 variant of COVID-19 adds to the mounting concerns.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) recently labeled it as a ‘variant of interest,’ it reiterates that the variant poses a low public health risk. The CDC estimates suggest that the JN.1 variant constitutes nearly 21% of the new infections, yet there’s no supporting evidence proving that it poses a higher health risk than other variants.


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