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A Walgreens employee holds a syringe during a free flu shot clinic at Allen Temple Baptist Church on December 19, 2014 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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RSV, Pediatric Flu Cases Down Dramatically Over Previous Years

SALT LAKE CITY, UtahDoctors at Primary Children’s Hospital and across the country said they are seeing an unprecedented drop in two critical childhood viruses this winter — RSV and pediatric flu.

Typically, in February there would be as many as 100 children with RSV and a couple hundred with the flu hospitalized at Intermountain’s Primary Children’s Hospital. So far this season, only one child has been hospitalized with the flu.

“We’re seeing something that I have never seen in the last 35 years,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health and director of epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.

He cannot believe the virus trends they are seeing.

“There’s almost no RSV,” he said. “We have not hospitalized any children at Primary Children’s this year for RSV.”

In a bad year, he said 120 children might be hospitalized each week for RSV, and 1/3 of them will typically end up in the ICU for some breathing support.

“This is really, truly remarkable,” he said about the drop in cases.

It’s the same with the flu here in Utah and nationwide. The flu typically kills two to four children in Utah each year.

“Not only are we seeing no cases, we’re not seeing hospitalizations, and thankfully, we’re not seeing any flu deaths,” Pavia said. “It’s really truly one of the good side effects, if you will, of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Pavia said the masking, hand-washing and social distancing Utahns are doing to prevent COVID-19 from spreading explains some of this trend, but not all of it.

Viruses compete with each other, he explained. Pavia suspects COVID-19 could be outcompeting RSV and the flu this season.

“Our gut feeling is that it will come back, roaring back and that we’ll have a bad RSV year when it does return,” he said.

He expects the return will be bad because there is little exposure to RSV right now. He added that the return might not be in the winter, but possibly in the offseason.

He also expects the flu to be bad when it comes back, but the hand-washing, mask-wearing and other protective measures we’ve adopted could make a difference.

“Maybe we’ll make a major dent in these diseases in the future,” he said.

One reason they believe RSV will come roaring back is that’s what they’ve seen in Australia, and they’ve already done a pretty good job of turning back COVID-19.

“In Western Australia, they are seeing a huge surge in RSV, higher than they have in any normal year,” he said.

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