How long will the flu last? This season, it might depend on your age.

According to a release by the City of Austin, emergency rooms are stuffed with people suffering from upper respiratory illnesses. It’s what some medical professionals are calling the “Tripledemic,” a problem across the United States as COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) collide simultaneously. As of last Saturday, November 19, there were just 30 pediatric ICU beds available in the entire state. (That number has since increased to 42.)

In Austin, health professionals are increasingly concerned with rising flu rates. Currently, the positivity rate in Travis County is 26.88% for the most recent reporting period. Generally, that number is below 10% at this point in flu season. 

“If you haven’t already, please get your seasonal flu shot,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Desmar Walkes said, in a release. “If we can limit the prevalence of those viruses in our community, it will help our already short-staffed health care system care for high-risk patients.”

In an article for the Washington Post, William Schaffner a professor at Vanderbilt University and medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases said: “Not only is flu early, it also looks very severe.”

According to the CDC, flu symptoms last between three and seven days, though that is just for uncomplicated influenza. But the predominant strain nationally is the H3N2 strain, which usually leads to both the worst outbreaks and the most complications for the very young, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses. In such cases, symptoms can last much longer. The most recent data shows that H3N2 was detected in 76% of 3,500 samples that tested positive and were analyzed for a virus subtype. 

This comes as COVID-19 lurks in the background, decreasing in Travis County but altogether still present, and as RSV has hit the country hard, particularly young children. RSV positivity peaked around early October, reaching almost 20% positivity rate on PCR tests, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. That number is still above 10% as of the end of last week.

The CDC says that most RSV infections “go away in a week or two,” and although there isn’t yet any treatment for the virus, there is hope that a vaccine will be ready by next year. UT Austin structural biologist Jason McLellan, whose research helped develop the COVID-19 vaccine, leads the newly formed Texas Biologics, which is researching vaccines.

“The clinical trials have been going on for years, and the phase three results are coming out now. I think the expectation is that we will have licensed RSV vaccines sometime next year in 2023, probably in time for the peak season,” McLellan told KXAN last week.

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