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Flu, RSV Cases Way Down In North Texas: Doctors Credit Public Health Measures During COVID-19 Pandemic

DALLAS-FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - In a typical year, hundreds of infants and toddlers in North Texas would be in the hospital right now because of RSV, a common respiratory illness, but the virus is almost nonexistent.

"We just haven't seen any of it," said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children's Medical Center in Dallas and a professor at UT Southwestern. "It's astonishing. Maybe historical. Both of those words are understatements."

Outbreaks of the virus usually begin in the fall and last through March, affecting thousands of kids in North Texas.

The respiratory illness can be a serious – and even fatal – concern, especially for infants.

During the peak of RSV season, Children's Medical Center in Dallas would sometimes see more than 50 positives cases a day.

RSV graph
(credit: Cook Children's)

"In typical years, you walk through the halls of the Children's hospital, and the wards would be full of children with RSV," Dr. Kahn said.

This season, Children's Medical Center has only had two cases.

There hasn't been a single admission for RSV at Cook Children's in Fort Worth.

"I've been a practicing pediatrician for 22 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Dr. Jason Terk, a Cook Children's pediatrician and the chair of the Texas Public Health Coalition.

Doctors credit public health measures like mask wearing, social distancing and frequent hand washing.

"All of the things that we've been doing to try to combat COVID-19 have had a significant impact on the transmission of other viruses which are transmitted in the same way," Dr. Terk said.

Flu infections have become extremely rare in North Texas, too.

Flu A graph
(credit: Cook Children's)
Flu B graph
(credit: Cook Children's)

"But my real concern is that these viruses are going to raise their ugly heads again," said Dr. Kahn. "It's not as if we've eliminated these viruses from the general population. No, they're going to come back."

It's even possible the flu or RSV could pop up earlier than normal, in the summer months.

"If that's starting to happen, then yes, the historical lesson is get our masks back on and practice those things, maybe not to the extent we have been before, to really prevent the spread of these deadly viruses."

Doctors say being careful about how we get together in the winter months, even after the worst of the pandemic is behind us, could help prevent RSV and flu cases from spiking again.

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