Covid and flu hospitalizations rise, RSV falls

Healthcare workers treat a Covid-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, on Monday, January 31, 2022.

Allison Dinner | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hospitalizations for Covid and flu are rising while respiratory syncytial virus appears to be retreating in some states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

As millions of people prepare to travel and gather for the holidays, public health officials are concerned the worst is yet to come.

Hospitals are facing the simultaneous threat of Covid, flu and RSV for the first time this winter. The spread of influenza and RSV has been very low during the pandemic due to widespread masking and social distancing implemented in response to Covid.

But while most people are returning to normal life, traveling and congregating largely unmasked, all three viruses are widespread. Public health officials have said many people are likely more susceptible to the flu and RSV this year because they haven’t contracted it in the past two years, meaning their immunity is lower.

With Covid, many people are out of date with their vaccines, meaning their immunity is waning at a time when more infectious omicron subvariants have risen to dominance.

“The last few years have certainly not been easy, and we are now facing another wave of disease,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, told reporters on Monday. “Another moment of overwhelmed capacity and truly a tragic and often avoidable sadness.”

More than 25,000 people were hospitalized with the flu in the week ended Dec. 3, a 32% increase from the previous week, according to a report released Friday by the CDC.

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The hospitalization rate for the flu remains at its highest level in a decade for this time of year, according to the CDC. At least 13 million people have contracted the flu, 120,000 people have been hospitalized and 7,300 people have died.

Week-over-week hospital admissions for people with Covid have increased by about 14% to an average of more than 4,800 admissions per day, according to CDC data. More than 50% of people hospitalized with Covid are aged 70 and over.

Walensky on Monday gave strong encouragement to everyone who is eligible to get their Covid booster and flu shots. There is no vaccine against RSV.

The CDC director also encouraged people to wear masks to reduce the spread of respiratory illness, particularly those living in areas with high levels of Covid community.

According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, about 80% of hospital beds in the United States are currently occupied as respiratory illnesses increase. According to the data, about 76% of children’s hospital beds are currently occupied. But in eight states, more than 90% of pediatric beds are occupied.

Outpatient visits for flu-like respiratory illness, defined as a fever plus a cough or sore throat, are currently high in 43 states, according to CDC data.

RSV, on the other hand, appears to have peaked in some states. The weekly hospitalization rate for infants under the age of six months has been higher than any year since 2018, according to a CDC monitoring system that collects data from 58 counties in 12 states.

But the admissions rate is down 53% since this season’s peak in early November, according to the data.

The weekly RSV hospitalization rate for seniors has fallen about 17% since peaking in November, according to the data.

“We have seen signs that RSV may have peaked in some areas such as the South and Southeast and may be flattening out in the mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwest,” Walensky told reporters Monday.

Children’s hospitals in November urged the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency in response to rising rates of RSV and flu admissions.

Children and the elderly are more susceptible to influenza and RSV. In the case of Covid, older people and older adults are more vulnerable, while younger people are generally at lower risk of serious illness.

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