Respiratory diseases slam in the United States: "Perfect storm for a terrible holiday season"

Respiratory diseases slam in the United States: “Perfect storm for a terrible holiday season”

An intensive care nurse tends to a patient with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), who is being ventilated in the children's intensive care unit at the Olga Hospital of the Stuttgart Clinic in Germany.
Enlarge / An intensive care nurse tends to a patient with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), who is being ventilated in the children’s intensive care unit at the Olga Hospital of the Stuttgart Clinic in Germany.

With SARS-CoV-2 still circulating and seasonal viruses including influenza and RSV making up for lost time during the pandemic, the United States is being hit with respiratory disease. And things could get worse as more holidays and associated gatherings approach, health officials warned on Monday.

“This year’s flu season started off rough. The flu is here, it started early and with COVID and RSV also circulating, it’s a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season,” Sandra said. Fryhofer, president of the American Medical Association and assistant professor of medicine. at Emory University School of Medicine, said at a press briefing hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today. “Over the past few years, protective measures against COVID have also prevented the spread of influenza and other respiratory infections, but we’re really not in that bubble anymore.”

Cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) are skyrocketing nationwide, with 47 states seeing “very high” or “high” levels of activity, according to the latest CDC data. The agency estimates that there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from the flu.


The numbers point to an unusually early, but not necessarily unusually severe, flu season. ILI cases and hospitalizations are higher for this time of the season than they have been at this stage in every previous season since the 2010–11 season. But hospitalizations have not reached the heights of previous seasons.

Still, there are signs that the season could be particularly bad, as well as at the start. The CDC reports that flu vaccination rates are lagging this year, especially among children and pregnant women. The start of the season and the slow pace of vaccination led to an increase in hospitalizations. The number of new hospitalizations with laboratory-confirmed influenza cases nearly doubled in the week ending November 26 compared to the previous week, with approximately 19,600 hospitalizations in the week ending November 26, compared to 11,000 the previous week.

COVID-19 is also making leaps. Although transmission in the United States has been largely in a lull in recent months, the Thanksgiving holiday appears to have spurred a slight increase, with hospitalizations up 28% to a daily average of 35,600 over the past few months. past two weeks, according to data tracking by The New York Times. Uptake of the updated COVID-19 booster, which has been shown to increase protection against infection, continues to be dismal, with only 12.7% of eligible Americans getting vaccinated.

Meanwhile, RSV – respiratory syncytial virus (sin-SISH-uhl) – has been surging in young children, with cases surging in recent weeks, filling pediatric beds and overwhelming hospitals. Today, CNN reported that some hospitals are facing a shortage of medical-grade cribs amid rising respiratory illnesses. New Mexico on Friday announced an emergency public health order that requires all hospitals in the state to participate in a “hub and spoke” model, which involves managing resources and transferring patients to where they are. can be treated better.

“This public health emergency order is now needed as hospitals and emergency rooms are operating above their authorized capacity due to an increase in respiratory viruses and are now under unsustainable pressure on health care providers. health,” the New Mexico Department of Health said.

Wave beyond the wave

The good news is that RSV infections may have already peaked in parts of the country, namely the South and Southeast, and may be leveling off in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and the Midwest, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in today’s news briefing. .

“While this is encouraging, respiratory viruses continue to spread at high levels across the country and even in areas where RSV may decline; our hospital systems continue to be strained with high levels of patients with other respiratory illnesses,” she warned.

Walensky urged Americans to get vaccinated. “First and foremost: get vaccinated. For two of the three viruses being discussed today, there are vaccines,” she said, referring to flu and COVID-19 vaccines. 19 (there is currently no RSV vaccine available). She also urged other health measures, such as covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands, staying home when sick, improving ventilation in homes and workplaces, and wearing a mask. High quality.

Currently, the CDC’s masking recommendations are based solely on SARS-CoV-2 transmission levels. However, when asked today if the agency would consider basing the recommendation on global respiratory disease transmission, Walensky said the agency was “actively investigating” the matter. But, in the meantime, she noted, “there is no need to wait for CDC action to put on a mask.”

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