Masking over the past two years has slowed the spread of respiratory illnesses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a common, highly contagious respiratory virus that typically causes mild cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially in infants and the elderly. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children under 1 year of age in the United States.

COVID-19 is also still circulating, said Dr. Andi Shane, medical director of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“Although we are seeing very low rates right now, we will likely see an increase in winter in a few months as people start to travel again,” she said.

While disease outbreaks are expected, Shane said Children’s is seeing two to three times more pediatric cases than usual.

Data from the Georgia Department of Public Health for the week ending October 8 shows that 3,526 of a total of 4,563 cases of ILI occurred in people 24 years of age and younger. Compared to the same week last year, the number of ILI cases is much higher this year than last year.

“What’s a little different about this one is that it was pretty sustained and long,” she said. “It seems to be much more sustained as we’ve had some respiratory virus circulation over the summer and also, of course, COVID-19 as well, which fortunately at the moment appears to be relatively low.”

Flu season also hits much earlier and much harder than in previous years.

Georgia is in the top category for the spread of flu-like illnesses, and only the District of Columbia has more cases. Georgia and DC lead the nation in cases.

Dr. Felipe Lobelo, director of epidemiology at Kaiser Permanente Georgia, previously said the easing of mitigation efforts, which helped prevent the transmission of influenza as well as the coronavirus, the past two winters make more important for people to get flu and COVID shots. before the end of October.

“How much of a rise in COVID are we going to see from October and November, as we’ve seen every winter so far?” He asked. “And also, you know, is the flu going to come back?”

At the start of the pandemic, many people working in public health were concerned about a so-called twindemic, constituting the combined impacts of COVID-19 and influenza. It’s also a concern for winter 2023, Lobelo said.

Lobelo said it was safe for people to get both COVID and flu shots at the same time.

Vaccination is the mainstay of prevention, Shane said, adding that Children’s Healthcare has consistently found that children who need to be hospitalized have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 or the flu.

Experts strongly recommend that children, as soon as possible, receive not only their primary series of two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, but also a booster, which helps ensure that the response continues.

Ideally, they add, children should get their flu shots by the end of October.

This story comes to Reporter Newspapers/Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.