Hospitalizations due to the flu are on the rise as a triple threat virus looms ahead of the holidays

Hospitalizations due to the flu are on the rise as a triple threat virus looms ahead of the holidays

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Nearly every U.S. state is battling high levels of flu-like illnesses, public health officials warned Monday as multiple respiratory viruses they threaten to overwhelm the healthcare system as people travel for the holidays and gather indoors with friends and family.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say they are seeing the signs early and severe flu season this worsened significantly during Thanksgiving week, the official start of the holiday season.

That fierce return of the flu coincides with the beginning of the third pandemic winter – with a new coronavirus that never left.

“This is the perfect storm for a terrible holiday season,” said American Medical Association board chair Sandra Fryhofer, an infectious disease doctor in Atlanta who joined the CDC briefing on Monday.

Levels of flu-like illness, measuring doctor visits with respiratory symptoms that can also be caused by RSV or Covid-19, were high or very high in 47 jurisdictions during the week of Thanksgiving, up from 36 the previous week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. Hospitals received almost 20,000 flu patients, which is almost double the number last week. Officials also reported two new pediatric flu deaths, bringing the season’s death toll to 14.

Overall, the CDC has recorded at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from the flu since October.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations due to the coronavirus are also riseswhile cases of respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV, remain high, although they appear to have peaked in some regions.

“The past few years have certainly not been easy, and now we face another wave of illness, another moment of overstretched capacity and another moment of tragic and often preventable grief,” Walensky said at the briefing.

Walensky urged Americans to get vaccinated against the flu and updated coronavirus vaccine boosters, which are adapted to omicron subvariants. She said early data suggest that this year’s flu vaccine formula seems well-matched to circulating strains, and that the vaccines reduce hospitalizations even when they don’t stop infections.

Public health authorities are concerned about the flu vaccination rates who were lower than in previous years, including groups at high risk of hospitalization, including young children, pregnant women and adults over 65 years of age.

“We all have extra fatigue, but understand that if you don’t, you could get very, very sick this year and ruin your holiday celebration get vaccinated,” added Fryhofer about the new vaccinations against the coronavirus.

Officials also offered some good news about RSV, which does not yet have an approved vaccine.

Pfizer to seek approval for RSV vaccine

Waves of the virus appear to have peaked in the South and Southeast and may taper 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 be declining, our hospital systems are still burdened with large numbers of patients with other respiratory illnesses,” she added.

Walensky urged those with flu or covid symptoms to see a doctor early to get prescription antiviral drugs that greatly reduce the likelihood of severe illness if taken in the early days of illness.

Health officials have also prioritized giving flu and coronavirus vaccines to ease pressure on hospitals, at a time when no major jurisdiction has mandated masks to limit transmission.

Walensky said Monday that 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 illness, especially for the 5 percent of the population currently living in counties with high levels of covid-19 in the community.”

The CDC is not a regulatory agency, so it can recommend, but not mandate, masking.

Agency accepted the new system earlier this year to link masking recommendations to a formula that emphasizes the pressure on hospitals, not just the number of infections. That 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 rates.

Walensky said the CDC is reviewing its metrics, but noted that Americans concerned about the triple threat virus can act now to protect themselves.

“You don’t have to wait for CDC action to put on a mask,” she said.

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