Government health officials on Friday warned of an early and severe start to cold and flu season in the United States, saying they were closely monitoring hospital capacity and medical supplies and were ready to send help if needed.
“We suspect that many children are being exposed to some respiratory viruses now for the first time, having avoided these viruses during the height of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jose Romero, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a call with reporters.
Across the United States, cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and influenza are increasing. At the same time, Covid-19 cases, which had been dropping, appear to have plateaued over the last three weeks, Romero said. Cases have flattened as a raft of new variants has been gaining ground against BA.5, the Omicron subvariant that caused a wave of illness over the summer.
The spikes in viral illnesses have already begun to strain hospitals.
Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said Friday that her agency was staying in close contact with health care systems and states.
“We are monitoring capacity across the country sharing best practices to reduce the strain on systems and standing by to deploy additional personnel and supplies as needed,” she said, noting that so far, no states have requested this help.
“There’s no doubt that we will face some challenges this winter,” O’Connell said.
Flu, RSV hitting early and hard
Seventeen states, Washington, DC, and New York City, are reporting high or very high respiratory illness activity amid a flu season that’s hitting harder and earlier than usual, according to data published Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Influenza activity continues to increase in the US – the number of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths so far this season nearly doubled in the past week. The CDC now estimates that there have been at least 1.6 million illnesses, 13,000 hospitalizations and 730 deaths from influenza, including two reported deaths among children so far this season. About one in 11 tests for flu were positive last week.
“In fact, we’re seeing the highest influenza hospitalization rates going back a decade,” Romero said.