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Martian Death Flu 2

By Scott Hamilton, MD
October 28, 2021
Hamilton Blog Headshot Updated 12.21.21

When humorist Dave Barry caught Influenza, he called it the Martian Death Flu, like the title of a bad sci-fi movie. He and his wife spent days in bed achy and feverish. “There has been a mound of blankets on my wife's side of the bed,” he wrote, “I think it might be my wife...the only way to tell for sure would be to prod it...” But since the slightest poke might seem potentially fatal, he didn't. Dave, leading a more active lifestyle, attempted to crawl to the bathroom.

When I wrote my first Death Flu column last year, I was predicting a bad winter where the Influenza, Corona and RSV viruses would intersect, kids and adults getting caught in the crossfire, landing in hospitals and morgues with simultaneous infections. As we all found out, Influenza just didn't happen this last season. Distancing and masks prevented person-to-person transmission. We didn't see RSV then either, until the latest COVID surge was over, and we began congregating and traveling. RSV waited out its usual winter and attacked in June, filling all (and I mean ALL) the pediatric hospital beds in Louisiana with infants and toddlers struggling to breathe.

As I write this, I've already admitted one baby to Lafayette General with RSV, and Influenza positive cases are rising. There are other predictors for this winter being the bad one we feared last year. People are relaxing their mask-wearing and distancing as the latest COVID surge has waned. In meetings, even doctors are asking when we can stop wearing masks in the hospital (the answer: not anytime soon, thank goodness). Finally, winter drives people indoors to mix with each other in enclosed spaces, particularly during Thanksgiving and Christmas. They talk in each other's faces and share the same air. And share all three infections.

When I was just out of residency in the early '90s, Influenza virus wasn't on my radar.  Kids didn't seem to get it much, but since it wasn't easy to test for, we didn't really know. Few carefree young adults like me got the vaccine because we were so healthy. Then I caught the virus and learned the hard way what the fuss was about. I remember huddling under the covers, having already maxed out both Ibuprofen and Tylenol, still shivering uncontrollably, a blanket-larva of aching misery. Martian Death flu indeed!

Influenza is a highly contagious virus that circulates every winter. It causes cough, runny nose, fever, headaches, sore throats, muscle pain and even nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In other words, it hits you everywhere. Kids with asthma get particularly sick with it, making their usual breathing difficulties worse. Children and teens, like the elderly, can even die from it.

Gee, sounds just like COVID! Also sounds like RSV, the winter virus that gives infants and toddlers fever, cough, congestion and asthma-like wheezing. Like we mentioned above, kids and adults can catch combinations of these highly contagious viruses. In past winters we've seen children who have Influenza and RSV virus simultaneously. When COVID first hit China in late 2019, most children they admitted to the hospital had both COVID and RSV or COVID and Flu.

What do we do to prevent yet another winter of COVID surge, with Influenza on top of that? How do we avoid a second RSV season this year with hospitals full of wheezing children, like happened this past summer? Y'all know how. Get you AND your kids COVID and Influenza shots. We'll hopefully have the 5-11-year-old COVID vaccine by mid-November. Put those masks back on, stay distant, don't plan crowds for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Martian Death Flu awaits...

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