Lowcountry hospitals prepare as doctors see new COVID strain, flu, RSV

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 4:18 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2023 at 8:03 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - MUSC staff says they are seeing higher numbers of COVID-19 and the flu this fall compared to this same time last year as they also monitor the potential impacts of regionally-spreading RSV.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus is a respiratory or lung illness that can be particularly dangerous for young children and older vulnerable populations. Dr. Stephen Thacker says there’s no data to indicate a large spike this year in COVID and flu, as long as people get their shots for those two illnesses. But he does worry about an influx of RSV.

“Recently there’s been a rise in RSV cases in Florida and Georgia,” Thacker says. “In South Carolina, I think we will see the same trend and we may be just on the edge of that when it comes to hospitalizations across our Children’s Hospital. We’re really only just now starting to see RSV-related hospitalizations this week.”

Thacker says last year the three respiratory sicknesses created a kind of triple threat to the community.

“We have a collection of individuals, specifically children who had not been exposed over a period of a couple of years to RSV because of some of the public health measures that were in place including masking as a strategy. And we basically had had two years of at-risk kids come back into schools, as they should be, and a return to normal,” Thacker says. “That just led to a whole lot more infections all at once. And we felt that with the increased frequency of children needing medical care in our urgent cares, our emergency departments and hospitalization.”

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control held a briefing Wednesday afternoon in which State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said they will be able to soon offer South Carolina hospitals monoclonal antibody treatments, which is especially targeted toward kids with RSV. The FDA approved the treatment in the summer of 2023. Bell said this product will be a key part of this season’s treatment.

“We call this active immunity because it gives the children, these very young children, the antibodies that they need to get them through their first RSV season. We saw the number of hospitalizations when this product was not available, so if we have a product that gives them a protective antibody we certainly believe that it will save lives,” Bell said.

As for COVID and flu cases, Bell says those are now on a similar yearly schedule for when a version of the virus is likely to hit people the hardest.

“Similar to the annual flu seasons, with COVID now being an endemic disease, we expect to see increases in a particular season, and now that’s occurring in the late summer and winter months annually for COVID and we’re seeing this now for the fourth year in a row,” Bell says.

She says this means yearly shots can anticipate the strain of the disease and offer people protection. Thacker also encourages people to get their flu vaccine and COVID boosters to fight off the dual disease threat through the late summer, fall and winter.

“There’s some common themes between influenza, RSV and COVID-19 that we see honestly at the extremes of age. So those that are very young, when it comes to those really under the age of one or two years of life, and then those have advanced age and we’re usually talking about those in their 60s or older,” Thacker says.

MUSC has already begun its flu vaccine outreach for the year. MUSC staff visited the Kempton Assisted living facility Wednesday and will continue to offer services to the community.

Doctors say if you notice your child or anyone in your household suffering from continued high fever despite home treatment or difficulty breathing, those are signs to take them to a doctor for help with their symptoms.