As Americans head into the holiday season, a rapidly intensifying flu season is straining hospitals already overburdened with patients sick from other respiratory infections.
More than half the states have high or very high levels of flu, unusually high for this early in the season, the government reported Friday. Those 27 states are mostly in the South and Southwest but include a growing number in the Northeast, Midwest and West. This is occurring when hospitals for children are already dealing with an increase in RSV-related illnesses. RSV can cause symptoms similar to colds that can make it dangerous for both infants and seniors. And COVID-19 is still contributing to more than 3,000 hospital admissions each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Atlanta, Dr. Mark Griffiths describes the mix as a “viral jambalaya.” He said the children’s hospitals in his area have at least 30% more patients than usual for this time of year, with many patients forced to wait in emergency rooms for beds to open up.
” I tell my parents that COVID is the greatest bully. It bullied every other virus for two years,” said Griffiths, ER medical director of a Children’s Health Care of Atlanta downtown hospital.
With COVID-19 rates going down, “they’re coming back full force,” he said
The winter flu season usually doesn’t get going until December or January. Officials at the CDC say that flu hospitalization rates haven’t increased this quickly since the swine influenza pandemic. The highest rates are among those 65 and older and children under 5, the agency said.
” “It is so important that people at greater risk get vaccinated,” Lynnette Brammer, CDC spokesperson said Friday.
But flu vaccinations are down from other years, particularly among adults, possibly because the past two seasons have been mild. Flu shots are recommended for nearly all Americans who are at least 6 months old or older.
Adults can get RSV too and that infection can be especially dangerous for older adults who are frail or have chronic illnesses, doctors say. There is not yet a vaccine against RSV although some are in development.
One infectious disease specialist urged Americans to take precautions before gathering for Thanksgiving, including avoiding public crowds, getting COVID-19 tests before they meet, and wearing masks indoors — particularly if you are old or frail, or will be around someone who is.
“No one wants to bring viruses to the table,” Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association urged President Barack Obama to declare an emergency and launch a national response against “the alarming rise in pediatric respiratory illness.” The groups wrote that they hoped the emergency declaration would permit waivers of Medicaid and Medicare requirements, so doctors and hospitals can share their resources and get emergency funding.
AP reporter Heather Hollingsworth contributed to this report.
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