DC hospital tracks ‘rapidly increasing numbers’ of flu amid RSV, COVID-19 cases

Busy and getting busier is how Children’s National Hospital described current cases of pediatric respiratory ailments in the D.C. area.

Viruses that typically surge in winter got started early this season and are currently affecting kids hard, according to Dr. Sarah Ash Combs, attending physician and director of outreach for the emergency department at Children’s National Hospital.

“We are just seeing high numbers every single day, every week; we’re seeing RSV, and we’re seeing influenza now, as well, in rapidly increasing numbers,” Combs said.

Dr. Sarah Ash Combs is attending physician and director of outreach for the emergency department at Children’s National Hospital (Courtesy Children’s National Hospital)

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Moreover, the coronavirus also remains a concern.

“We do have COVID in the background; it never went away. And we have had a very slow, but steady creep up in those COVID numbers. So we’re definitely keeping an eye out for it,” she said.

Combs recommends that everyone 6 months old and up get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu.

“And the other thing I would say is we’ve stepped away a lot from masking. Because, and I understand this, we’re fatigued with it. But we do know masking works,” she said. “So if you can, especially if you’re going into a somewhat crowded indoor place, even like the grocery store, go ahead and put on just a simple mask. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy … if you can keep one of those on, I think that will help.”

Ailments sweeping through area classrooms are leaving lots of student seats empty and parents concerned about kids who might be getting sent to school while sick.

“We really do still need to try and keep the child at home when they’re sick,” Combs said, especially if their symptoms run beyond a simple runny nose. “If your child has a tiny bit of a runny nose, I think there’s some discretion there. But really, if your child is spiking fevers, if they’re coughing, such that there’s just droplets spewing everywhere, we do need you to keep those children at home. Because as much as possible, we need to quell this rapid spread of all these viruses.”

Although viruses are behaving a little differently than in previous years — cases are appearing in greater numbers and making kids sicker — Combs wants to reassure parents and tells them not to despair.

“These are viruses that your child’s immune systems are primed to fight off themselves. Sometimes they’re going to need help from us. But children on the whole do very well. And we’ll get through these viruses and come out the other end,” she said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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