June 19, 2024

Respiratory Illnesses Show Signs of Slowing Down After Weeks of Triple Threat

Written by AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

Jan 20, 2024

Main Takeaways

  • After weeks of elevated flu, RSV, and COVID-19 activity, cases appear to be slowing down across parts of the U.S.
  • However, flu activity is still high and the season is expected to continue for several more weeks at least. The predominant flu strain right now is influenza A (H3N2).
  • A new Omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, is accounting for over 40% of current U.S. COVID-19 cases. So far it appears more transmissible but not more severe.
  • Doctors advise getting flu and COVID-19 booster shots if eligible, as protection wanes over time. Other protective measures like masking and hand hygiene remain important as well.

After a challenging number of weeks dealing with simultaneous surges of influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19, the latest data suggests some positive news that activity for all three illnesses may be slowing down in parts of the country.

However, cases remain well above normal seasonal baselines and experts say it’s too soon to declare the end of what’s been dubbed the “tripledemic.” Preparations for additional waves of illness should continue.

Flu Cases Trending Downward But Still Widespread

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s latest weekly flu report ending January 14th showed a decrease in flu activity for the second week in a row. Cases have fallen from a peak of over 13% of patient visits for flulike symptoms to now just under 10%.

Week Ending % Patient Visits for Flu
Jan 14 9.7%
Jan 7 12.1%
Dec 31 13.1%

The percentage of deaths caused by pneumonia and influenza has also declined slightly after rising sharply in December. However, the CDC says flu remains high across most of the U.S. right now and the season typically continues well into the spring.

The main influenza strain circulating continues to be influenza A (H3N2), which experts warn tends to impact older adults disproportionately. The CDC estimates there have been at least 25 million flu cases, 280,000 hospitalizations, and 16,000 deaths so far this season.

They advise getting vaccinated if you have not already, as the shot can still provide substantial protection during the remainder of the flu season. Other measures like masking, hand washing, and staying home when sick are wise precautions as well to limit spread.

COVID-19 Seeing Gradual Drop Except for New XBB.1.5 Variant

After the fall and winter wave of COVID-19 driven primarily by Omicron subvariants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1, total cases have retreated from high levels reached in December. Test positivity has declined to under 10% as of mid-January after peaking at around 13%.

However, the latest data shows that yet another fast-spreading Omicron offshoot, XBB.1.5, has rapidly grown from causing around 4% of U.S. COVID-19 cases to now over 40%. So far XBB.1.5 does seem more transmissible compared to other current subvariants, but not necessarily more virulent.

Experts say the best protection remains being “up-to-date” on the new bivalent booster doses that target Omicron specifically. Protection from vaccines and previous infection wanes substantially over time. Alongside vaccination, treatments like the antiviral Paxlovid are available if infected.

The large majority of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among the unvaccinated. But older and immunocompromised groups remain at increased risk even if vaccinated, underscoring the need for boosters plus added precautions.

RSV Cases Retreating From Fall Peak

RSV emerged earlier than expected this year, driving a surge in pediatric hospitalizations over the fall and early winter. Cases appear to have peaked in late December however and declined significantly by early January.

Experts had worried the early and dramatic wave of RSV could foreshadow another spike later in 2023. CDC surveillance indicates transmission has fallen substantially nationwide over the past couple weeks, though activity remains above average seasonal baselines.

There are signs that RSV cases are rising again in the southeastern U.S. While concerning, officials expect any additional waves to likely peak at lower levels than those seen in the fall 2022. There is hope the bulk of RSV may have passed already.

Unlike flu and COVID-19, there is currently no approved vaccine for RSV. Protection centers around hygiene, infection control, and use of the monoclonal antibody medication palivizumab in high risk infants. Continued social distancing when possible can limit exposure and spread as well until RSV circulation reaches typical seasonal patterns.

What To Expect Going Forward

Medical groups have warned for months that this respiratory virus “triple threat” could put significant strain on healthcare systems. So far, facilities have not become overwhelmed even at the height of recent surges, but the cumulative impact has been taxing nonetheless.

CDC tracking indicates flu could follow typical seasonal patterns, receding further by late spring but not disappearing entirely. Another smaller second peak is also plausible before activity hits an ultimate seasonal low over the summer months.

Meanwhile COVID-19 continues its trend of unpredictable variants and waves, driven largely by waning immunity. XBB.1.5 may fizzle out or it could dominate for many weeks like previous Omicron branches. Experts recommend bivalent boosters to broaden protection, even if recently infected, along with treatments if illness occurs.

RSV outlooks remain murky and it may yet resurge. But hopes are that its fall wave represented the worst, with just some localized pockets returning rather than national-level spikes.

In total, while the “tripledemic’s” worst weeks seem to have passed, ongoing diligence is required. Flu and COVID-19 vaccinations protect but can be outpaced by fast-changing viruses. Treatments,infection control policies, and societal readiness for future surges continue to be necessities in this era of unpredictable respiratory disease. The viruses show no signs of disappearing permanently anytime soon.


Content and quotes for this story were adapted and integrated from the following provided source links:

Forbes, NPR, Republic, AP News, KGET, Scripps, CIDRAP, CBS News, Tyee




AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

Related Post