Hospitals brace for “tripledemic” of RSV, coronavirus and flu

Photo of Keck Medicine of USC in the daylight. A grey car is in the frame.
Drug Take Back Day will return to campus Dec. 6. Students can drop off expired or unwanted drugs at three locations, no questions asked. (Christina Chkarboul | Daily Trojan file photo)

Rising cases of respiratory syncytial virus are causing experts to warn of a “tripledemic” alongside influenza and coronavirus. California hospitals, especially children’s hospitals, are already strained by cases of the latter and are being stretched thin by RSV. Detections of the virus in the state jumped in late October, exceeding last year’s five week average peak by almost twice as much.

“For adults, RSV is like a cold virus, so must adults with RSV are never going to seek medical attention, are never going to need medical attention, and honestly aren’t going to be tested for it,” said Chief Student Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman, during a briefing Tuesday with the Daily Trojan. “The issue is that when it infects very young children, or the very elderly, it can cause very serious disease.”

RSV in infants and older adults can cause bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the airways which can cause trouble breathing and could require hospitalization for treatment, Van Orman said. Individuals living with chronic lung diseases are also at risk.

“Keeping yourself healthy as an adult is the best way that you’re going to prevent passing it to your kid,” Van Orman said of preventative measures.

Drug Take Back Day is returning to campus Dec. 6, USC Student Health announced on their website. The event, jointly hosted by Student Health and USC Pharmacies, will allow students to safely dispose of expired or otherwise unwanted drugs at various locations on campus, no questions asked.

“It’s a good reminder, as you’re cleaning out your dorm room or your apartment, to make sure that you properly dispose of any drugs,” Van Orman said. 

This ensures “they’re not entering the [waste stream] supply or getting into people’s hands for whom they’re not prescribed,” she said.

The event comes one month after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration hosted a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Oct. 29. Nationwide events associated with the day are “an opportunity for Americans to prevent drug addiction and overdose deaths,” according to Student Health’s announcement.

Students can drop off expired or unwanted drugs at three locations on campus: the University Park Campus Health Center Pharmacy, the Health Sciences Campus Medical Plaza Pharmacy and the Verdugo Hills Professional Pharmacy.

With Winter Break on the horizon, Van Orman said during the briefing that Student Health’s recommendations for travel remain unchanged: testing before departure, wearing a mask if in a crowded environment or exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness, maintaining hand hygiene and staying updated on influenza and coronavirus vaccinations.

“For many people, [winter break] is a period of adjustment,” Van Orman said. “Being home can be a wonderful time, a relaxing time, but it also can bring new challenges and stresses as people readjust to a variety of family and home environments.”

Student Health saw 153 coronavirus cases the week ending Nov. 28, a slight decrease from 177 the week prior as expected due to Thanksgiving break. 2.6% of visits to Student Health during that period were for influenza-like illness, also an expected decrease from 3.3% the week prior. Student Health could not provide updated numbers on influenza and coronavirus booster vaccination rates at USC, citing technical issues in obtaining the data.

This past weekend saw unexpected developments in China as mass protests erupted over the state’s “zero-Covid” policy, which continues to enforce extensive lockdowns, mass testing, and quarantine periods in government facilities. The unrest as citizens blamed coronavirus protocol for a fire in Xinjiang Saturday that killed ten people, including three children. 

Van Orman spoke to the implications of the policy and subsequent protests on public health, saying the conflict exemplified the importance of “balancing risks versus the benefits.”

“We’ve known for a while now that we are going to, in essence, have to learn to live with it,” Van Orman said of the coronavirus. “We have tools to manage it as an endemic virus: keeping up high rates of vaccination, continuing to develop effective antivirals, using masks, and using source control during periods of high transmission, using moderate levels of isolation for people that are infected.”