SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Flu season is approaching fast so KELOLAND News reached out to the Sanford and Avera hospitals to see what the outlook is for COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus this fall (RSV).
Last year was dubbed the “tripledemic” with an influx in cases for influenza, COVID-19 and RSV throughout the nation. Both Sanford and Avera physicians said it will be unlikely that KELOLAND gets hit as hard with all three viruses this year.
David Basel, the vice president of clinical quality at Avera did say there’s concern that this year’s influenza season in particular will be worse than average. He said the flu season starts in the southern hemisphere so medical professionals in the United States can get an indication of what the flu season will be like here by looking at how it impacted countries like Australia over the summer. Basel said Australia’s flu season was pretty significant this year and we can expect the same here.
“Because we had some light flu seasons for a couple of years, so people didn’t see the flu for a couple of years, we’ve got less protection from just people getting sick with it periodically,” Basel said. “I also think fewer people got flu shots there for a little bit so our protection is lower.”
However, Joseph Segeleon, the vice president and medical officer at Sanford Children’s Hospital, said he hasn’t seen any indication that this year’s flu season will be any worse than previous years for both influenza and COVID-19. Segeleon said the reduced severity of COVID is due to the immunity people have built up from either getting the virus in the past or getting a vaccine.
“We have gained in our immunity as a population,” he said. “Although we are likely to have increases in COVID infections and COVID hospitalizations, there is nothing with these current variants that would make us think that it will be any more severe than it has in the past.”
Segeleon did say though that the flu is expected to come earlier than normal this year. Basel and Segeleon recommend people get their flu shots in mid-September. Segeleon said there should be no issues with the production and distribution of influenza vaccines this year.
Along with flu shots, a new COVID-19 booster vaccine will hit the market around September or October. This vaccine is meant to tackle the new XBB and EG.5 virus variants and will be available for anyone over six months of age. Although there isn’t an exact timeline for when the new booster will be available, getting both the COVID-19 booster and annual flu shot at the same time will pose no issues and is recommended.
For the future, both physicians anticipate COVID-19 functioning very similarly to the yearly flu where people will need to get updated vaccinations every flu season. Basel did say that experts are still unsure of the seasonality of COVID and whether it will appear during the same season as the flu.
“The mutations that we’re seeing is kind of like the flu from the standpoint that COVID has shown the ability to continue to slowly mutate and evolve to try to escape our immune system, so you have to keep up with it as it mutates,” Basel said.
As for RSV, there are a few new developments that will be ready for both infants and elderly this fall. A new vaccine was created for people over the age of 60 that are immunocompromised, have heart or lung disease or live in a nursing home. For the first time, a new antibody for infants is available which has shown to be up to 80 percent effective. The antibody, nirsevimab, is meant for infants less than eight months old to reduce the burden of the illness.
“Infants, just by the nature of being younger than six months old, can be vulnerable to RSV and can get severely ill and when I say severely ill, I mean up to and including being on mechanical ventilation or having a breathing tube,” Segeleon said. “So this medication, being able to be offered to the population of those under eight months of age, to reduce the likelihood of severe illness in RSV, is pretty significant.”
Both Basel and Segeleon recommend everyone get vaccinated this fall and to stay home if they are feeling sick.
“Don’t be a hero, if you’ve got the common cold symptoms this winter, stay home from work and don’t spread it to others because it may be RSV, it may be influenza, it may be COVID, all of which are things we want to reduce the spread of,” Basel said.