With Christmas only days away, health experts are warning families across multiple states of surging flu activity that could put holiday gatherings at risk. Several outlets have reported on the sharp uptick in influenza and other respiratory illnesses, raising concerns of wider spread as people travel and congregate more over the next week.
Flu Cases in Georgia Reach High Levels for December
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia is experiencing an early and intense start to this year’s flu season. The state has recorded over 3,700 positive flu tests so far in December – a dramatic jump from just 71 cases in November.
“We are seeing a tremendous amount of flu activity in the state right now, which is unusual for this early in the season,” said Cherie Drenzek, state epidemiologist and director of respiratory health at the Georgia Department of Public Health.
State health officials note that flu typically peaks between December and February. But the sheer number of infections already is alarming, especially with many planning to visit family and friends for Christmas next weekend.
The early flu surge follows two straight years when influenza cases remained extremely low throughout winter. Experts believe COVID precautions like mask-wearing and distancing curbed transmission. But with mandates lifted, the flu virus is circulating actively again.
RSV and Other Viruses Also Spiking Nationwide
Georgia is not alone in seeing upticks in flu and other respiratory diseases. Media outlets in Texas, Virginia, South Carolina and beyond are all reporting surges in illnesses likes RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) as well as the flu.
- A hospital in Norfolk, VA has seen a three-fold increase in flu-related hospitalizations over the past two weeks
- Medical centers across central Texas have described an “unprecedented rise” in RSV cases filling pediatric units
- Prisma Health Children’s Hospital in South Carolina continues getting record RSV admissions, with about 75-80 young patients being treated at any one time
|Typical Peak Season
|Fall, early winter
|Runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, wheezing
|Late fall, winter
|Fever, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, cough, sore throat
With multiple viruses circulating so actively at the same time, doctors emphasize the importance of getting tested to determine the exact cause of respiratory illness. While RSV occurs more often in very young children, the flu can lead to life-threatening complications for people of any age with certain medical conditions.
“It’s important for people to try to get tested so they know what they’re dealing with and know how to manage it,” said Dr. Rahul Ghandi, Chief of Infectious Diseases at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine.
Health Officials Brace for Post-Holiday Case Explosion
The early emergence of flu along with other viruses has health experts extremely concerned about a surge of infections after holiday celebrations and travel. People gathering closely with symptomatic individuals can easily spread disease to friends, family members and beyond through schools or workplaces.
Dr. Linda Bell, State Epidemiologist at the South Carolina Department of Health, commented:
“We anticipate transmission of respiratory illnesses like flu and RSV to increase drastically as families travel across the state and gather for the holidays,” she said. “If you’re sick, reconsider travel plans and avoid contact with vulnerable individuals.”
To mitigate wider viral spread around Christmas, health leaders emphasize basic precautions like hand washing, mask wearing around symptomatic people, avoiding contact with obviously sick individuals and reconsidering attendance at large indoor gatherings if feeling unwell.
Getting an annual flu shot and COVID vaccine boosters also remains vitally important. While the flu strains circulating do not exactly match current vaccine formulations, experts maintain the shots can still reduce infection severity, hospitalizations and deaths.
“Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to protect one’s self against the virus and illness,” Drenzek said. “Combined with everyday preventive measures like regular hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick, we can slow the spread of flu and help protect those most vulnerable to flu complications.”
Only time will tell how severe this flu season and concurrent spread of RSV ultimately becomes regionally and nationwide. But health officials will carefully track case trends through Christmas and New Year’s to best prepare hospital capacity and resources needed for January and beyond.
Key Steps the Public Can Take Now
With flu and other viruses spreading actively across many states already, following guidance from health experts provides the best chance to slow further transmission, keep hospitalizations manageable and protect those most at risk for severe disease. Steps individuals can take over the holidays include:
- Get vaccinated against flu and COVID if not up-to-date already
- Wash hands frequently and properly
- Cover coughs/sneezes appropriately
- Wear well-fitting masks in crowded indoor settings
- Get tested if symptomatic before gatherings
- Stay home if feeling obviously ill
- Reconsider or postpone holiday travel plans when actively sick
Following this straightforward advice benefits not just individuals and families reducing their infection risk, but also communities confronting early-season viral spread. “We know people want to gather over the holidays, but its best to take precautions if sick,” Drenzek said. “The health and safety of loved ones should take priority over the coming weeks.”
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