A particularly difficult respiratory season is in full swing in the United States, with health officials urging people to get vaccinated again for the flu and COVID-19.
Currently, the United States has higher than average levels of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza. At the same time, the number of new COVID infections is now 28% higher than two weeks ago.
“It’s going to be a confusing season for respiratory infections,” said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, an intern at Piedmont Hospital and several other Atlanta hospitals, told reporters Monday. “Understanding what makes people sick will be a mystery.”
Even for people who have tested negative for COVID, flu, and RSV, it’s still possible to catch a cold as many Americans have shifted from pandemic containment measures like social distancing and masking to a post-COVID standard . According to UBS analysts, the number of flu cases in Europe also appears to be higher than last year.
“These levels are higher than what we typically see at this time of year,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said while speaking to reporters Monday. “Compared to the previous week, hospital admissions for influenza remain the highest we’ve seen at this time of year in a decade.”
As of Oct. 2, an estimated 8.7 million people have contracted the flu, 78,000 people have been hospitalized with the flu, and 4,500 have died, including 14 children, according to the CDC. About 7.5% of all visits to a healthcare provider today are for respiratory issues. (This week last year, respiratory illnesses accounted for 2.5% of outpatient provider visits.)
Shortages of the antiviral flu drug Tamiflu and the antibiotic amoxicillin have exacerbated the rise in respiratory illnesses. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a rare liquid version of amoxicillin is commonly used to treat ear infections, pneumonia, and sinusitis that can occur as a result of infection. Over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and Motrin for children can be hard to find in some areas.
However, there are steps you can take to prevent or reduce your risk of developing a serious respiratory illness. According to Fryhofer, flu shots “go well with the circulating virus.” As with COVID vaccines, it takes about two weeks after a flu shot for protective antibodies to form. New COVID boosters updated to better protect against new omicron subvariants are also available.
There are also antivirals used to treat influenza and COVID, and while there is currently no cure or vaccine for RSV, several pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline GSK,
and Pfizer Inc. PFE,
seek regulatory approval of RSV vaccines for the elderly.
Walensky also noted that RSV has peaked in the South and Southeast and may soon peak in New England and the Midwest.
“There’s probably a sense of complacency,” Fryhofer said. “We have forgotten how bad the flu can be. But this season is a hoot that things can get really bad, and it’s here. So people have to get vaccinated.
Learn more about CNET’s current virus coverage:
Confused About COVID Boosters? That’s what science and experts say about the next shot generation.
COVID-19 could be behind the increase in RSV disease in children. Here’s why.
The common virus is bringing more children to the hospital than it has in years
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