NEW YORK, NY (CBS Newspath) – Experts have been warning we could see what they are calling a “twindemic” of COVID-19 and flu this coming winter.
Millions of children get sick with the flu every year and tens of thousands are hospitalized with respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. Research being presented at an American Academy of Pediatrics conference shows pandemic precautions, like wearing masks and social distancing, helped stop the spread of flu and other common respiratory viruses last season.
“Although each of these things is not perfect, taken together, they really are effective in preventing illness,” says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The study was conducted at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio from October 2020 through April 2021, when pandemic measures were in place. Researchers found just two cases of flu and no cases of RSV. When restrictions relaxed in mid-March, viral infections returned. “We didn’t really expect that we would see spreading of winter respiratory viruses in the summer. It just shows you that these viruses, which are really very contagious, will take advantage of us as we open up, gather together, take off our masks,” Dr. Schaffner says.
The Noecker family takes what precautions they can each winter because three-year-old Alexander was born premature. “The doctors were very clear, he needed to be protected because if he caught RSV or the flu, there was a high likelihood that he could end up hospitalized,” says Rebecca Noecker.
And the COVID-19 pandemic brought new worries. “We follow all the public health advice. We wear masks everywhere we go,” Noecker says. “We wash our hands when we get home and, you know, we generally make sure that we eat well and sleep. Noecker family members also always get their flu shots, and they hope these habits will keep them healthy this winter.
The CDC recommends everyone ages 6 months and older receive the flu vaccine, with rare exceptions.