Flu and other lung infections in the US
The spread of flu and other lung infections in the US is worsening.

By John Brooks AGN

Flu and other lung viruses are spreading across the US

Friday, government health officials warned that cold and flu season in the United States could start early and be bad. They said they were keeping a close eye on hospital capacity and medical supplies and were ready to send help if needed.

Dr. Jose Romero, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a call that he thinks many children are now getting some respiratory viruses for the first time after avoiding them during the peak of the pandemic.

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and flu are going up all over the United States. At the same time, Romero said that the number of Covid-19 cases, which had been going down, seems to have stopped falling in the last three weeks. BA.5, an Omicron subvariant that caused a wave of illness this summer, is losing ground to a number of new variants. This means that the number of cases has stayed about the same.

Hospitals are already feeling the effects of the rise in viral illnesses.

Dawn O’Connell, who is the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said on Friday that her agency was in close contact with health care systems and states.

“We are keeping an eye on capacity across the country and sharing best practises to ease the load on systems. We are also ready to send more people and supplies if needed,” she said, adding that no state has asked for this help yet.

“This winter will definitely bring us some problems,” O’Connell said.

Flu and RSV are hitting hard and early

The flu season is starting earlier and getting worse than usual, according to data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday. Seventeen states, Washington, DC, and New York City are reporting high or very high respiratory illness activity.

The number of flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths in the US has nearly doubled in the last week. So far this flu season, the CDC says that at least 1.6 million people have gotten sick, 13,000 people have been hospitalised, and 730 people have died from the flu. Two children have also died from the flu. Last week, about one in eleven flu tests came back positive.

Romero said, “In fact, we’re seeing the most flu-related hospitalizations in the past 10 years.”

When flu rates were this high at this point in the season before, it was during the H1N1 pandemic. The latest report from the CDC shows information up to October 29.

Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and chief science officer at eMed, a company that offers telehealth test-to-treat services, said that there is no real mystery about why viral illnesses are on the rise.

“Because of SARS-CoV-2, we haven’t had flu for the last couple of years, which was a good thing. Extra things like staying away from people, wearing masks, and not going out for about a year have only put off the inevitable. “Unfortunately, we are feeling the effects of this first real flu season now that we have taken away the pressures that were put in place to keep viruses at bay,” he said.

Romero said that the spread of these viruses varies by region, but that there are more cases of RSV across the country. It’s a common infection of the lungs that usually causes mild cold-like symptoms, but it can make people very sick, especially older people and babies.

RSV cases seem to have peaked in October in the South and Mountain West. In these areas, the number of RSV cases is going down, but the number of flu cases is going up.

The South has the most flu cases, followed by the Mid-Atlantic and some parts of the West Coast. Walgreens keeps track of prescriptions for antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, and their data suggests that there are hotspots in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as along the Gulf Coast, where Houston and New Orleans are located.

According to another weekly update released by the CDC on Thursday, the number of people who were hospitalised with RSV was also much higher than usual.

The number of RSV hospitalizations has already reached a level that is usually not seen in the US until December. They are on the rise among people of all ages, but especially children.

So far this season, only about a month in, about 4 out of every 1,000 babies under 6 months old have been hospitalised with RSV. So far this season, RSV has sent more than two out of every 1,000 babies between 6 months and 1 year to the hospital. It has also sent more than one out of every 1,000 children between 1 and 2 to the hospital.

In the US as a whole, almost one in five PCR tests for RSV were positive for the week ending October 29. This is almost double what it was for the same week last year.

The most recent counts of weekly cases are less accurate, but PCR tests have found more RSV cases each week in October 2022 than in any other week in at least the last two years. For the week ending October 22, there were more than twice as many cases as in any other week in 2020 or 2021.

There are signs that the number of RSV cases in the south of the US is going down, but the number of positive tests and cases are still going up in other parts of the country, especially in the Midwest.

And kids’ hospitals are still busier than usual because of RSV and other illnesses. According to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than three-quarters of paediatric hospital beds and paediatric ICU beds are in use across the country. This is more than the average of about two-thirds over the past two years.

As of Friday, less than one in five beds are open in seventeen states. Five of them, including Rhode Island, Arizona, Maine, Minnesota, Delaware, and Washington, DC, are more than 90% full.

Getting a shot is the best way to stay safe.

Romero stressed that getting a shot is the best way to avoid getting these diseases, especially since the holidays are coming up soon.

“We have vaccines for two of the three viruses we talked about: influenza and COVID 19,” he said, urging Americans to use them even though not enough have.

The CDC’s data tracker shows that only 8.4% of Americans who are eligible have gotten a new updated Covid-19 booster.

The number of flu shots is also lower than usual. Lynnette Brammer, who leads surveillance for the CDC’s influenza division, said that based on data from insurance claims, the number of flu shots for adults is about 5 million less than it was at the same time last year.

For children, it looks like coverage is about the same as last year, but Brammer said that this is a 6% drop from what it looked like before the pandemic.

Romero emphasised that most adults only need one flu shot a year, but that children who are getting their first flu shot need two shots.

He also told people not to try to figure out what they had just by looking at their symptoms, since many of these viruses can cause symptoms that are similar.

If you go to the doctor for a test as soon as you start to feel sick, you might be able to get antiviral treatments for flu and Covid-19 earlier.

Romero said that the CDC was getting ready to send more information to doctors about who should be eligible for these “test-to-treat” strategies.

Romero also told people to get vaccinated, cover their coughs and sneezes, stay away from sick people, wash their hands often, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

“People may also choose to wear a mask that fits well as an extra safety measure,” Romero said.

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