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February 22, 2024

Triple Threat: COVID, Flu, and RSV Cases Surge After Holidays

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Jan 16, 2024

Respiratory illnesses are hitting many parts of the United States hard right now. COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have all seen a significant rise in cases after the holiday season. Hospitals and healthcare providers are strained trying to manage this “tripledemic.”

Holiday Travel and Gatherings Drive Up Transmission

The increase in cases is largely attributed to more travel and large gatherings over the holidays. An estimated 115 million Americans traveled in late December, providing more opportunities for viruses to spread [(1)][1]. Cold weather driving people indoors likely also played a role.

Whatever the exact reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 38 states have seen “high” or “very high” respiratory illness activity [(2)][2]. Certain regions, like Los Angeles and parts of the Midwest, have documented particularly steep climbs in cases [(3)][3][(4)][4].

“It’s kind of scary,” said John Smith, a Cincinnati-area father newly diagnosed with the flu. He and his family fell ill after hosting relatives from out of town. “It just spread like wildfire through our household,” Smith said [(5)][5].

Hospitals nationwide are reporting longer emergency room wait times, staffing strains, and limited bed capacity amid ballooning patient volumes [(6)][6][(7)][7].

Multiple Viruses Sometimes Striking at Once

In a troubling development, co-infections where patients test positive for two or even three viruses simultaneously have become more common.

“Often patients have COVID plus flu or RSV plus flu,” said Dr. Ann Parker of Yale School of Medicine [(8)][8]. “The combination often causes more severe disease which increases hospitalizations.”

Earlier in the pandemic, COVID cases tended to crowd out flu infections. But now both viruses are co-circulating widely.

Young Children and Older Adults Most at Risk

RSV, a common childhood illness, has come roaring back after two years of unusually low activity. Pediatric hospitalizations for RSV exceed recent peaks, stretching children’s hospitals thin on staffing and beds [(9)][9].

With less natural immunity built up, even infants as young as 6 months are developing severe symptoms like high fevers and difficulty breathing [(10)][10]. Health officials worry vaccine shortages will leave the very youngest unprotected [(11)][11].

Meanwhile, those over 65 continue to bear the worst impacts of flu season. Older adults account for the vast majority of flu hospitalizations every year [(12)][12]. Chronic conditions also exacerbate COVID-19 illness severity.

Better Treatments Offer Some Hope

Fortunately, antiviral medications for both flu and COVID can reduce severity if administered promptly. Stocks of the flu medication oseltamivir (Tamiflu) stand at good levels [(13)][13]. Newly updated COVID booster shots also help fend off severe disease from current coronavirus variants.

Promising RSV vaccine candidates for older adults are proceeding through clinical trials rapidly [(14)][14]. Additional research better quantifies “long COVID” risks for older individuals, supporting prevention efforts [(15)][15].

“I cannot stress enough the importance of being vaccinated, especially for those at high risk,” said Dale Bratzler, chief COVID officer at the University of Oklahoma. Boosters and yearly flu shots “still offer excellent protection against severe disease and death” [(16)][16].

Cases May Worsen Before Peak Season Ends

The head of the CDC recently cautioned that flu activity could rise further given “early signals that flu activity may be going up again” [(17)][17]. COVID-19 variants continue evolving quickly too.

The world must remain vigilant against respiratory viruses even after the immediate crisis stabilizes. Our best defense comes from pursuing research, expanding vaccine access globally, and supporting frontline healthcare workers. With sustained commitment, this difficult period shall pass.

References

  1. https://newsroom.aaa.com/2023/12/115-million-americans-expected-to-travel-over-christmas-new-years/

  2. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/respiratory-illnesses-elevated-38-states-cdc/story?id=106189610

  3. https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/flu-cases-decrease-cdc-experts-warn-another-rise/

  4. https://kstp.com/kstp-news/top-news/metro-hospitals-see-longer-than-normal-er-wait-times-amid-surge-in-covid-rsv-flu/

  5. https://www.whio.com/news/kind-scary-local-father-details-how-flu-diagnosis-impacted-him/b4f1e032-8ccc-4b18-ad0c-680d1805c877/

  6. https://ktla.com/news/local-news/covid-flu-rsv-cases-on-the-rise-across-l-a-county-as-holiday-season-ends/

  7. https://www.kaaltv.com/news/spiking-respiratory-cases-lead-to-long-wait-times/

  8. https://connecticut.news12.com/yale-school-of-medicine-doctor-seeing-co-infections-of-covid-rsv-flu

  9. https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/4271140-rsv-shots-infants-short-supply/amp/

  10. https://ktul.com/amp/news/local/covid-19-back-on-the-rise-in-tulsa-and-in-the-nation-flu-season-around-the-corner-underlying-medical-conditions-baseline-oklahoma-cases-sickness-hospitals-near-me-ou-health-dale-bratzler-coronavirus

  11. RSV shots for infants in short supply: CDC

  12. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/65over.htm

  13. https://www.cantonrep.com/story/news/healthcare/2024/01/13/ohio-influenza-respiratory-illnesses-increase-activity/72173792007/

  14. https://today.duke.edu/2024/01/qa-how-stay-healthy-covid-and-flu-cases-rise

  15. 🤒 A virus trifecta

  16. https://ktul.com/news/local/covid-19-back-on-the-rise-in-tulsa-and-in-the-nation-flu-season-around-the-corner-underlying-medical-conditions-baseline-oklahoma-cases-sickness-hospitals-near-me-ou-health-dale-bratzler-coronavirus

  17. https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/flu-cases-decrease-cdc-experts-warn-another-rise/

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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.

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