Why Are Lots of Kids Likely to Be Sick This Holiday Season?

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, little was done beyond flu shots to counter the seasonal respiratory virus infections that circulate among the general public in a typical year — such as influenza viruses, coronaviruses, rhinoviruses and more.

During the first two years of the pandemic, people largely got a reprieve from other viruses like flu and respiratory syncytial virus, also known as R.S.V. Many people went two years without getting sick, perhaps a first in their lifetime and certainly out of the ordinary for children. Outbreaks that did occur were much smaller than usual.

Now these viruses are back. Heading into winter, pediatricians and hospitals are reporting an influx of young patients with RSV. Flu cases are spiking. But why did these viruses disappear in the first place? And what does this mean for the cold and flu season? Will there be a “tripledemic” this winter?

Amid the holiday season, understanding the dynamics of how viruses surge and plunge helps explain why so many people, especially young children, are sick right now — or will be this winter. But as a society, we don’t have to be at the mercy of the dominant virus in a given season, or even another new one, for that matter. The knowledge gained from the Covid-19 pandemic could help lower the toll of respiratory viruses for good.

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