Government health officials warned of an early and severe start to the cold and flu season in the US on Friday, saying they were closely monitoring hospital capacity and medical supplies and were ready to send help if needed.
“We suspect that many children are now being exposed to some respiratory viruses for the first time because they avoided these viruses during the peak of the epidemic,” said Dr. Jose Romero, director of the US National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. of Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a call with reporters.
Across the United States, cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and influenza are on the rise. At the same time, the declining number of Covid-19 cases appears to have plateaued over the past three weeks, Romero said. Cases have flattened as an influx of new variants settles in against BA.5, the Omicron sub-variant that caused waves of disease over the summer.
A spike in viral illnesses has already begun straining hospitals.
Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dan O’Connell said Friday that his agency is in close contact with health systems and states.
“We are monitoring capacity across the country, sharing best practices to reduce pressure on systems, and deploying additional personnel and supplies as needed,” he said, adding that so far, no state has requested the assistance.
“There’s no doubt we’re going to face some challenges this winter,” O’Connell said.
Seventeen states, Washington, DC and New York City report high or very high respiratory disease activity in the middle of the flu season, which hits harder and earlier than usual. Information Published Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Influenza activity continues to rise in the U.S. — so far this season, the number of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths has nearly doubled in the past week. The CDC now estimates at least 1.6 million illnesses, 13,000 hospitalizations and 730 deaths from the flu, including two deaths among children so far this season. One in 11 tests for the flu last week was positive.
“In fact, we’re seeing influenza hospitalization rates from a decade ago,” Romero said.
The last flu hospitalization rate this season was this high during the H1N1 pandemic. The latest CDC update tracks data through October 29.
said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and chief scientific officer at eMed, a company that provides telehealth test-to-treat services.
“We’ve enjoyed the benefit of no flu for the past two years, primarily due to SARS-CoV-2. Additional mitigation measures like social distancing, wearing masks and not going out for a year have delayed the inevitable. Now we’re under pressure to contain viruses and head into this first real flu season. “We have published and unfortunately, we are feeling the impact,” he said.
RSV cases are increasing nationally, although there are regional differences in the circulation of these viruses, Romero said. It is a common respiratory infection that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but can cause serious illness, especially in the elderly and children.
In the South and Mountain West, RSV cases seem to peak in October. In those areas, even though influenza is prevalent, RSV cases are declining.
Flu activity is highest in the South, followed by the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the West Coast. Data from Walgreens, which tracks drugs for antiviral treatments — such as Tamiflu — suggests hotspots in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as Gulf Coast areas including Houston and New Orleans.
According to another weekly, the number of RSV hospitalizations was also higher than usual Upgrade It was released by the CDC on Thursday.
Overall RSV hospitalization rates have already reached levels not seen in the United States until December. They are increasing among all age groups, but especially among children.
So far this season, four out of every 1,000 babies under 6 months old have been hospitalized with RSV — in about a month. More than two out of every 1,000 children between 6 months and one year old have been hospitalized with RSV so far this season. More than one in every 1,000 children between the ages of one and two.
In the U.S. overall, one in five PCR tests for RSV were positive in the week ending Oct. 29, nearly doubling the monthly trend.
The number of weekly cases is low in current weeks, but more RSV cases have been detected by PCR tests each week in October 2022 than in any other week in at least the past two years. In 2020 or 2021, the weekly number of cases was more than double the week ending October 22.
There are signs that RSV cases are declining in the southern United States, but test positivity rates and cases continue to rise in other regions, particularly the Midwest.
And children’s hospitals have an above-average number of patients with RSV and other conditions. More than three-quarters of children’s hospital beds and pediatric ICU beds are currently in use nationwide, with an average of two-thirds full over the past two years, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As of Friday, seventeen states had fewer than one in five beds. Five of them are more than 90% full: Rhode Island, Arizona, Maine, Minnesota and Delaware, Washington, DC.
Romero stressed that with holiday gatherings just around the corner, vaccination is the best defense against these infections.
“We have vaccines for two of the three viruses we talked about, influenza and Covid-19,” he said, and he urged Americans to take advantage of them, even if there aren’t enough of them.
According to the CDC’s data tracker, 8.4% of eligible Americans received the new updated Covid-19 booster.
Influenza vaccinations are less common than usual. Based on insurance claims data, flu vaccinations for adults are down about 5 million from the same time last year, said Lynette Brammer, who directs surveillance for the CDC’s influenza division.
For children, coverage looks about the same as last year, but those levels represent a 6% drop from what childhood flu vaccines were like before the pandemic, Brammer said.
While most adults only need one annual flu shot, Romero stressed that children getting vaccinated against the flu for the first time need two shots.
He also advised people not to try to guess what they did based on their symptoms alone, as many of these viruses can cause similar symptoms.
Seeing a doctor as soon as you start feeling unwell can help you take advantage of the early antiviral treatments available for influenza and Covid-19.
Romero said the CDC is preparing to send more information to doctors about who should qualify for these test-to-treat strategies.
In addition to vaccination, Romero reminded people to cover their coughs and sneezes, avoid other people who are sick, wash their hands frequently and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
“People may also choose to wear a well-fitting mask as an extra precaution,” Romero said.