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This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals the structure of the novel coronavirus. The illness caused by this virus is COVID-19.

With schools in session and cooler weather approaching, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Lancaster have yet to see a significant increase similar to those of the past two fall seasons.

Thirty-three people were hospitalized with the virus on Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health. That figure has fluctuated between 27 and 39 since Oct. 1.

But across the nation, some hospitals are filled close to capacity with children infected with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a virus that causes mostly coldlike symptoms in adults but can develop into pneumonia and bronchiolitis in very young children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In October, the rate of RSV-associated hospitalizations in the U.S. reached 9 per 100,000 people, the highest mark of the last five seasons, according to the CDC.

“We’re seeing cases much earlier than we’ve seen in previous years,” said Dr. John Goldman, an infectious disease specialist at UPMC Harrisburg. 

A possible reason for the surge, Goldman said, is that the lockdowns and social distancing measures of the past two years that were crucial to keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients also reduced the spread of RSV, meaning many children have not built up immunity yet.

“Many kids are now getting RSV for the first time,” Goldman said. “We have so many kids that weren't exposed to the virus in the previous years, that have less pre-existing immunity than in previous years, that it's both spreading faster and causing more severe disease.” 

RSV is most often spread through direct contact with saliva or mucus, unclean hands or germy surfaces, according to Lancaster General Health. Almost all children are able to recover from RSV on their own, and most children who go to the hospital are discharged in a few days after symptoms improve.

With flu season underway, the cumulative hospitalization rate for that virus nationwide was 1.5 per 100,000 the week ending Oct. 22, according to the CDC. Lancaster County reported 233 positive flu tests from Oct. 2 to Oct. 29, according to the state Department of Health.

Locations providing flu and COVID-19 vaccines can be found at www.vaccines.gov.

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