COVID and flu cases are rising across the U.S. : Shots

1704449430 COVID and flu cases are rising across the US | isentertainmentgroup

After holiday shopping and celebrations, cases of respiratory illness are on the rise across the United States.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images


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Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

1704449430 66 COVID and flu cases are rising across the US | isentertainmentgroup

After holiday shopping and celebrations, cases of respiratory illness are on the rise across the United States.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In most U.S. states, respiratory illness levels are currently considered « high » or « very high, » according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A few respiratory viruses have been driving the upward trend. « The influenza virus is the thing that’s really skyrocketing right now, » says Dr. Steven Stack, public health commissioner for the state of Kentucky and president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. « Influenza is sharply escalating and driving more hospitalizations. »

Nationally, levels of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) appear to have plateaued and possibly peaked, while COVID-19 levels are elevated and are expected to climb higher.

« After the holidays, after we’ve traveled and gathered, we are seeing what is pretty typical of this time of year, which is a lot of respiratory viruses, » says Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the CDC. « We’re seeing particularly high circulation in the southeast, but no part of the country is spared. »

Staggered start for viruses this season

Th flu is coming in later this season, compared with the 2022-2023 season, when « RSV and flu really took off right at the same time along with COVID, » says Marlene Wolfe, assistant professor of environmental health at Emory University and a program director at WastewaterScan. « All three of those together were pretty nasty. This year, there’s more of an offset. »

That has been good news so far for hospital capacity, which has remained stable this season, meaning that people who are quite ill and need medical care are generally able to get it.

Some hospitals in different parts of the country — from Massachusetts to Illinois to California — are starting to require masks for staff again and in some cases for patients and visitors.

Vaccines can still help

Health officials say that getting the latest flu and COVID-19 vaccines now can still protect people this season. While Stack, with Kentucky’s Department for Public Health, encourages seasonal preventive shots for everyone 6 months and older, he says it’s particularly important for « everybody who is elderly — and not even old elderly — like young elderly, 60 and older, » since they are more likely to get very sick from these viruses.

CDC data shows that fewer than half of U.S. adults have gotten a flu shot this fall and winter. That’s still better than the vaccination rate for this season’s COVID-19 booster, which fewer than 20% of U.S. adults have gotten, even though COVID-19 remains the bigger danger.

« The thing that is putting folks into the hospital and unfortunately taking their lives — the virus that is still the most severe [at the moment] — is the COVID virus, » says the CDC’s Cohen, citing the latest weekly data showing 29,000 new COVID-19 hospitalizations and 1,200 COVID-19 deaths in the United States.

Beyond vaccines, health officials say there’s still a place for masking as a preventive measure.

Early testing can aid treatment

Those who are sick should stay home and watch their symptoms. If they progress beyond a runny nose and a light cough « to body aches, fevers, difficulty moving through your day, a heavier runny nose, a worsening cough … [those more severe symptoms] should trigger you to go get tested, » says Cohen.

Getting tested and diagnosed early, with COVID-19 or the flu, can help those at risk of serious illness get access to prescription pills that can reduce their chances of ending up in the hospital.

Flu and COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments should be covered by health insurance.

For those who are uninsured, the government is also offering a program called Test to Treat that offers free tests, free telehealth appointments and free treatments at home.

Cohen says people can protect themselves over the next few weeks by staying aware of what’s happening in the community and their individual circumstances. « You want to know what’s happening in your community, » she says. « Is there a lot of virus circulating? And then, what are the tools that I could layer on to protect myself, depending on who I am, my age, my risk, as well as who I’m around? »

The CDC has maps of COVID-19 hospitalizations down to the county level on its website, and it provides weekly updates on respiratory viruses nationwide. Cohen says there are many tools — including vaccines, masks, rapid tests and treatments — available to help people reduce their risks this season.