There are a lot of people sick with respiratory viruses here in the US.
We are still struggling with COVID. Today’s (Oct. 28, 2022) statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show a weekly case count of 265,893 with 2,649 deaths. The case count is almost certainly low, as many at-home positive tests are never reported to health departments and some jurisdictions don’t gather data at all. The uptake of the reformulated boosters has been poor, with only 7.3% of people age five and over having received an updated booster.
While the community risk level map shows the majority of the country in the low (green) level, the community transmission rate is substantial or high in much of the county. You can see the various maps using a drop down menu here. The community transmission rate is based on case counts and/or positive test results; the community risk map also includes data on other factors, such as hospital admissions and stresses on the health care system. A personal illustration: Although the community risk level in my county (Broome in New York State) has been low in recent days, I have had a rash of friends being sickened with COVID. This is explained by our community transmission rate being high, which is the highest of four levels. (As I was writing this post, the maps were updated. Due to the emerging strains on the health care system, our county community risk just shifted from low to high.)
Meanwhile, the flu season has hit earlier and harder than usual. The predominant strain is H3N2, which is known to have a high incidence of complications, especially among young children, elders, and the medically vulnerable. Like many other illnesses, the effects of inflammation from the flu raise the risk of heart attack and stroke for weeks following the initial infection, further endangering not just personal health but also the stability of medical institutions, such as hospitals. So far this flu season in the US, the CDC reports 880,000 flu cases, with 6,900 hospitalizations and 360 deaths. Generally, flu season starts in October but this year it is running about six weeks earlier than usual.
The third virus that is currently surging is RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). For most people, RSV is like a cold but for infants, young children, and elders it can progress to lung infections. These can lead to hospitalization and even death, especially among elders. Unfortunately, there is not yet a vaccine against RSV. I actually participated in a clinical trial for one a few years ago but none has yet reached a level of effectiveness to be approved.
The triple whammy of COVID plus flu plus RSV has already pushed some pediatric hospitals to the edge of their capabilities. Ironically, the RSV rate is a critical factor. Because so many infants and young children were isolated due to COVID risk and lack of day care/school interaction during the pandemic, there is a much larger group than normal that is vulnerable to RSV infection.
There is also concern that the rate of new cases of all three viruses may climb even higher as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors.
Some things that people can do to help: Vaccinate as appropriate. Wash hands frequently. Avoid touching your face. Cover coughs and sneezes. Stay home and away from people as much as possible if you get sick. Mask in crowded places or avoid going to them. Get adequate rest and eat healthy foods. If you develop symptoms, talk to a health care provider so you can get testing and supportive treatments to help keep you from developing more severe symptoms and avert a hospital stay, if possible.
I know some level of sickness is inevitable but we can help cut down the case numbers if we watch out for ourselves and our communities.