RSV cases peak, CDC says, but flu hospitalizations hit highest level in a decade

RSV cases peak, CDC says, but flu hospitalizations hit highest level in a decade

The spread of RSV appears to be slowing, although Covid cases have risen since Thanksgiving and flu hospitalizations remain at a decade-long high, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.

“This year’s flu season got off to a rocky start,” Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, chair of the board of directors of the American Medical Association, said during a CDC press briefing. “The flu is here. It started early, and with Covid and RSV also circulating, it’s a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season.”

About 78,000 people have been hospitalized with the flu since early October. About 19,500 people were newly hospitalized in the week ending Nov. 27, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, nearly double the number of flu hospitalizations reported the previous week.

The CDC estimates that the flu has already caused 8.7 million illnesses since October 1. That’s close to the estimated 9 million cases for the entire 2021-22 flu season.

Flu deaths are also already approaching last season’s total: The CDC estimates this year’s toll to be at least 4,500 since Oct. 1, up from 5,000 for all of last season.

The combined burden of these viruses is straining the capacity of hospitals nationwide. About 79% of hospital beds in the United States are full, according to HHS data.

However, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases most likely peaked in parts of the country, such as the South and Southeast, and plateaued in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwest. , Walensky said.

Nationally, the number of weekly positive RSV tests rose from more than 19,000 in the week ending November 12 to around 7,500 in the week ending November 26.

Average daily Covid cases, however, have increased by 16% in the past two weeks, according to the NBC News tally. The CDC recorded a nearly 18% increase in average daily hospital admissions due to Covid from the week ending November 22 to the week ending November 29.

Walensky said the rise “is particularly concerning as we enter the winter months, when more people congregate indoors with less ventilation, and as we approach the holiday season when many gather with loved ones and across generations.”

Since the three viruses have many symptoms in common — including runny nose, cough, congestion and sore throat — Fryhofer noted that it can be difficult to diagnose a patient right away. Unlike Covid tests, RSV and flu tests must be carried out in a doctor’s office or ordered by prescription.

“It’s going to be a confusing respiratory infection season. Figuring out what makes people sick is going to be a puzzle,” Fryhofer said.

Walensky said the most important way to protect yourself from these viruses is to stay up to date with Covid vaccines and the annual flu shot. There is not yet a vaccine to prevent RSV.

CDC data suggests that people who received updated Covid boosters were less likely to die than those who were vaccinated but did not receive a new booster. Bivalent boosters also appear to reduce the risk of Covid infection compared to the original injections.

Fryhofer said flu shots are also a good match for strains circulating this year.

But Walensky pointed out that some groups with the highest rates of flu hospitalization — those who are pregnant, under age 5 or over age 65 — have lower vaccination rates now compared to the same period. Last year. Flu vaccination rates among pregnant women are about 12% lower than last season, she said.

Walensky recommended people wear masks if traveling by plane, train, bus or other public transportation; if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk of serious illness; or if they live in counties with high Covid levels.

She added that the CDC is considering officially recommending masks in certain counties based on the overall spread of respiratory viruses — not just Covid — but that “there is no need to wait for CDC action to put on a mask.

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