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Warning as 'contagious' third virus could hit putting NHS under 'tripledemic' winter pressure

Nottinghamshire Live logo Nottinghamshire Live 23/11/2022 Paul Speed & Karen Antcliff
Another virus could hit alongside a resurgence of Covid, and increase in flu cases © Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post Another virus could hit alongside a resurgence of Covid, and increase in flu cases

Winter is approaching and with it comes the threat of an increase in flu cases and resurgence of Covid. This year, another contagious virus, one that poses a particular threat to children and older people, has sparked concerns over the potential of a 'tripledemic'.

With the health service already pressure and braced for a 'twindemic', now an expert says there's a third prevalent illness to worry about - the common respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. While the Mirror reports that it doesn't tend to present a serious problem for most people, with recovery in a week or two, RSV can be serious, particularly for infants and older adults. The virus can cause pneumonia and swelling of the airwaves in babies, the elderly, and vulnerable people.

It is understood that it is the leading cause of infant hospitalisations in the UK and close to a third of under-fives with respiratory symptoms swabbed as part of UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) surveillance test positive.

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High vaccination levels have meant that large swathes of the population are well protected from flu and Covid - but these two viruses don't usually cause severe illness in young people, unlike RSV.

Professor Francois Balloux, director at the UCL Genetics Institute, told : "RSV is a leading cause of child hospitalisation and the virus kills more than 100,000 children each year globally. That’s more than 50 times as many children than those who died from Covid throughout the pandemic. It’s a far bigger threat to young children than Covid or seasonal flu."

He continued: "RSV is highly contagious and the majority of children experience an RSV infection before the age of two. It’s not obvious that its spread can be suppressed without enforcing highly disruptive measures. There is hope RSV child hospitalisations and deaths will decrease in the future with new RSV vaccines being rolled out soon."

UKHSA's recent figures show nearly a third of under-fives currently have RSV. This comes at the same time as flu levels have spiralled higher than normal after two years of lockdown, while more than two million people in the UK have Covid. This has, of course, sparked fears of a 'tripledemic' - but an expert has been quick to dispel any worry.

Professor Amitava Banerjee, from the Institute of Health Informatics and UCL, said: "In my view the word 'tripledemic' is just the latest soundbite and we do not necessarily know that RSV will be as big a threat. I think far greater potential threats to the NHS is due to chronic underfunding, chronic understaffing and the indirect and long-term effects of Covid."



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