This fierce return of the flu coincides with the start of a third pandemic winter – with a novel coronavirus that never left.
“It’s a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season,” said American Medical Association board chair Sandra Fryhofer, an infectious disease physician in Atlanta, who joined a briefing. CDC Monday.
Flu-like illness levels, a measure of medical visits with respiratory symptoms that could also be caused by RSV or covid-19, were high or very high in 47 jurisdictions during Thanksgiving week, up from 36 the previous week, a said CDC director Rochelle Walenski. Hospitals admitted nearly 20,000 flu patients, nearly double the number of previous week. Authorities also reported two new pediatric flu deaths, bringing the number of child deaths this season to 14.
In total, the CDC has recorded at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from the flu since October.
Meanwhile, coronavirus hospitalizations are also rising, while cases of respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV, remain high, although they appear to have peaked in some areas.
“The past few years have certainly not been easy, and now we are facing a new wave of disease, another time of overloaded capacity, and a time of tragic and often avoidable sadness,” Walensky said during the briefing.
Walensky urged Americans to get their flu shots and update coronavirus vaccine reminders, which are tailored to omicron subvariants. She said early data suggests this year’s flu vaccine formulation appears to be well-matched to circulating strains, and that vaccines lower hospitalizations even when they don’t stop infections.
Public health authorities have expressed concern about flu vaccination rates that have been lower than in previous years, including in groups at high risk of hospitalization, including young children, pregnant women and adults aged 65 and over.
“We all have excessive fatigue, but understand that you could get really, really sick this year and ruin your parties if you don’t. get vaccinated,” Fryhofer added of the new coronavirus reminders.
Officials also announced good news regarding RSV, which does not yet have a licensed vaccine.
Pfizer to seek RSV vaccine approval
Outbreaks of this virus appear to have peaked in the South and Southeast and may be leveling off in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwest, Walensky said.
“While this is encouraging, respiratory viruses continue to spread at high levels across the country, and even in areas where RSV may decline, our hospital systems continue to be strained with high numbers of patients with other respiratory illnesses,” she added.
Walensky urged people with flu or covid symptoms to seek prompt medical attention for prescription antivirals that significantly reduce the risk of serious illness if taken within the first few days of illness.
Health officials have also prioritized administering flu and coronavirus vaccines to reduce pressure on hospitals, at a time when no major jurisdiction has imposed a mask mandate to limit transmission.
On Monday, Walensky said the CDC recommends wearing a mask on public transportation and that “we also encourage you to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask to help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, especially for ages 5 and up. % of population currently living in counties with high covid-19 community levels.
The CDC is not a regulatory body, so it can recommend masking but not mandate it.
The agency adopted a new system earlier this year to tie masking recommendations to a formula that focused on the strain on hospitals rather than just the number of infections. This formula is being tested as hospitals fill up with people infected with other respiratory viruses, meaning new coronavirus infections can threaten hospital capacity even at lower volumes.
Walensky said the CDC is reviewing its measures, but noted that Americans concerned about the triple virus threat can act to protect themselves immediately.
“You don’t have to wait for CDC action to put on a mask,” she said.
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