Flu season has struck the United States hard and early, burdening hospitals that are also coping with a surge in other respiratory viruses, including RSV and COVID-19.
The nation has seen at least 4.4 million cases of flu so far this season, with 38,000 hospitalizations and 2,100 deaths from flu, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.
While typically flu rates don't begin to rise until December or January, 27 U.S. states now have high or very high flu levels. The South and Southwest have been hit hardest but the numbers are growing in other regions, especially among those 65 and older and children younger than 5, the Associated Press reported Friday.
“It's so important for people at higher risk to get vaccinated,” Lynnette Brammer of the CDC's influenza division said in a news release Friday. The CDC recommends flu shots for anyone 6 months and older.
Hospitalization rates from the flu haven't been so high so early since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, the AP noted.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, a pediatric emergency physician in Atlanta, called the combination of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), flu and COVID a “viral jambalaya.”
“I tell parents that COVID was the ultimate bully. It bullied every other virus for two years,” said Griffiths, who is with Children's Health Care of Atlanta.
Griffiths told the AP that children's hospitals in his area have at least 30% more patients than usual.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is still responsible for more than 3,000 daily hospital admissions, according to the CDC.
Flu vaccination rates are lower than in past years, especially in adults. This may be due to the past two flu seasons being mild, experts say.
No vaccines exist for RSV, which is an infection of the lungs and respiratory tract that is common in children but can also infect adults. The virus is especially dangerous for those with chronic illnesses and those who are frail.
With holiday festivities approaching, infectious disease specialists urge caution. Some suggest avoiding public crowds in the days before Thanksgiving, getting COVID tests before gatherings and wearing masks indoors, especially if a loved one is old or frail.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more facts about the flu.
SOURCE: Associated Press, Nov. 18, 2022