The United States is facing its highest rate of flu hospitalizations in more than a decade, with children and the elderly particularly at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, measures such as masks and reducing social distancing have reduced the spread of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus. But as people begin to return to normal activities and socialize without masks, viruses are making a huge comeback.
At least 1.6 million people have gotten sick with the flu this season, 13,000 have been hospitalized, and 730 have died, according to the CDC.
About 3 in 100,000 people with the virus are getting the flu, the highest since 2010. The current hospitalization rate is five times what it was before the last outbreak in 2019.
The elderly and children under the age of 5 currently face the greatest risk, with hospitalization rates nearly double those of the general population, according to CDC data.
“Furthermore, in these two groups of individuals, there are early signs of serious illness,” Dr. Jose Romero, CDC’s national director of immunization and respiratory diseases, told reporters.
In the southeastern US, 20% of respiratory samples test positive for the H3N2 strain of the flu, Romero said. In the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, H1N1 flu viruses are growing in their bloodstreams, he said.
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is on the rise in almost every state in the U.S., Romero said. In most parts of the South and West, however, RSV is on the way down and the flu is now on the rise, he said.
RSV is a common virus that most children catch before the age of two. It usually causes cold-like symptoms, but can cause severe illness requiring hospitalization in infants and the elderly.
Romero said that the mitigation measures implemented during the Covid-19 period have prevented most of the US population from being infected by 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 medical teams and provide supplies from the strategic national stockpile if hospitals are stretched to capacity, said Dawn O’Connell, a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services. No state has yet requested such support, O’Connell said.
Romero urged everyone who is eligible to get an annual flu shot and a covid booster dose. Children younger than 8 years old who get their first flu shot should get two doses for better protection, he said. There is no vaccine to protect against RSV.
Romero also urged people to take common precautions every day, such as covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough, and washing your hands regularly.
It is often difficult to tell the difference between flu, RSV and covid symptoms. Romero: Parents should seek medical attention for their child immediately if they see any of the following warning signs: difficulty breathing, lip or facial swelling, chest or muscle pain, dehydration (dry mouth, crying without tears, or not urinating for hours), or is not active or interactive when awake.
So does Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House He warned this week The covid death rate is still very high. Fauci said the U.S. stands at a crossroads as Omicron variants emerge that are resistant to key antibody therapies that protect the most vulnerable.
Fauci warned that hospitals could face a “negative trifecta” if variants of Covid, flu and RSV emerge this summer.
“It’s very confusing and can overwhelm the hospital system, especially for pediatric patients,” Fauci said.