The United States is facing the highest rates of hospitalizations in more than a decade with children and elderly people most at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Influenza and respiratory syncytial virus have subsided during the Covid-19 pandemic due to mitigation measures such as masks and social distancing. But as people begin to return to their normal routines and socialize without masks, the viruses are starting to take a hit.
At least 1.6 million people have contracted the flu so far this season, 13,000 people have been hospitalized, and 730 people have died, according to CDC data.
About 3 out of every 100,000 people infected with the virus are hospitalized with the virus currently, the highest rate since 2010. The current hospitalization rate is nearly five times what was observed during the last pre-pandemic season in 2019.
Older adults and children younger than 5 are at the greatest risk right now, with hospitalization rates twice that of the general population, according to CDC data.
“There are also early signs that influenza is causing serious illness in these two groups of individuals specifically,” Dr. Jose Romero, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters during a news conference Friday.
About 20% of respiratory samples in the southeastern United States have tested positive for a strain of influenza called H3N2 that has been associated with more serious illness in children and elderly people in the past, Romero said. He said H1N1 influenza viruses are spreading in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest.
Cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are also increasing in nearly every region of the United States right now, Romero said. In most of the South and parts of the West, he said, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is trending downward and that influenza is now on the rise.
RSV is a common virus that most children contract before the age of two. It usually causes cold-like symptoms, but it can also lead to a serious illness that requires hospitalization for infants and the elderly.
Romero said the mitigation measures implemented during Covid have left a large segment of the US population uninfected with other common respiratory viruses, and as a result these viruses are now on the rise because young children in particular are not immune to previous infections.
The federal government is prepared to send in medical teams and provide supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile if hospitals are overrun, according to a senior Department of Health and Human Services official Don O’Connell. O’Connell said no country has so far requested such support.
Romero called on everyone who is eligible to get the annual flu shot and the COVID booster. He said that children under age 8 who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time should receive two doses for best protection. There is no vaccine that protects against respiratory syncytial virus.
Romero also called on people to take common sense daily precautions such as covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and washing your hands frequently.
It is often difficult to tell the difference between the symptoms of influenza, RSV, and Covid. Romero said parents should seek medical attention for their children immediately if they develop any of the following warning signs: trouble breathing, blue lips or face, chest or muscle pain, dehydration (dry mouth, crying without tears, or not urinating for hours), or not alerting or reacting upon waking.
White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, too Warning this week COVID-19 deaths are still very high. Fauci said the United States stands at a crossroads with the emergence of omicron sub variants that are resistant to key antibody therapies that protect the most vulnerable.
Fauci warned that hospitals could experience a “negative trifecta” this winter from emerging variants of Covid, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.
“It’s going to be very confusing and could strain the hospital system, especially for pediatric patients,” Fauci said.