Flu hospitalization rate highest in a decade, children and seniors most at risk

The United States is facing the highest flu hospitalization rates in more than a decade, with children and the elderly being most at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Influenza and respiratory syncytial virus had receded during the Covid-19 pandemic thanks to mitigation measures such as masks and social distancing. But as people begin to return to their normal routines and socialize without masks, viruses are staging a major comeback.

At least 1.6 million people have fallen ill with the flu so far this season, 13,000 people have been hospitalized and 730 have died, CDC data shows.

About 3 or so patients are currently hospitalized with the flu per 100,000 people with the virus, which is the highest rate since 2010. The current hospitalization rate is almost five times higher than that seen during the last season pre-pandemic in 2019.

The elderly and children under age 5 currently face the greatest risk, with hospitalization rates about double the general population, according to CDC data.

“There are also early signs of influenza causing severe illness in precisely these two groups of individuals,” Dr. Jose Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters during a briefing. Friday briefing.

In the southeastern United States, about 20% of respiratory samples test positive for a strain of flu called H3N2 that has been linked to more severe illnesses in children and the elderly in the past, Romero said. In the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, H1N1 flu viruses are increasingly circulating, he said.

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are also increasing in almost all parts of the United States right now, Romero said. In most of the south and parts of the west, however, RSV is trending down and influenza is on the rise, he said.

RSV is a common virus that most children catch before the age of two. It normally causes cold-like symptoms, but can also lead to serious illness requiring hospitalization for infants and the elderly.

Romero said the mitigation measures implemented during Covid have left much of the US population uninfected with other common respiratory viruses, and as a result, these viruses are now increasing because young children in particular are not not immune to previous infections.

The federal government is ready to send medical teams and provide supplies from the national strategic stockpile if hospitals are stretched beyond their capacity, according to Dawn O’Connell, a senior official with the Department of Health and Human Services. . No state has requested such support so far, O’Connell said.

Romero called on all eligible people to get their annual flu shot and receive a Covid booster dose. Children under 8 who are getting the flu shot for the first time should get two doses for better protection, he said. There is no vaccine that protects against RSV.

Romero also called on people to take common-sense daily precautions, such as covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and washing their hands frequently.

It is often difficult to tell the difference between the symptoms of influenza, RSV and Covid. Romero said parents should seek immediate medical attention for their children if they have any of the following warning signs: difficulty breathing, bluish lips or face, chest or muscle pain, dehydration (dry mouth, crying without tears or absence of urine for hours). , or not alert or interactive when awake.

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci also notified this week Covid deaths are still far too high. Fauci said the United States stands at a crossroads as omicron subvariants emerge that are resistant to major antibody treatments that protect the most vulnerable.

Fauci has warned that hospitals could face a “negative trifecta” this winter from emerging variants of Covid, influenza and RSV.

“It’s going to be very confusing and could even stress the hospital system, especially for the pediatric population,” Fauci said.

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