Respiratory viruses could increase after the holidays, public health experts warn

Respiratory viruses could increase after the holidays, public health experts warn


Concerns are growing among infectious disease and public health experts that the U.S. could face an even higher number of respiratory infections in January.

It’s “very likely” that respiratory viruses could spread even more after holiday gatherings and New Year’s celebrations, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. , he told CNN on Monday.

“These are highly contagious viruses – and people have largely left Covid-19 and the vaccination against Covid behind. They weren’t so careful about the flu. They don’t wear masks,” Schaffner said. “And if you’re close to other people, that’s an opportunity for all three viruses—flu, Covid, and even RSV—to spread from one person to another. So we expect an increase in these viruses after the holidays.”

At the same time, there was a wave of flight cancellations and families stranded at the airport during their holiday trips across the country.

When that happens, “People are together for very long periods of time and they’re not wearing masks, they’re exhausted, they’re tired and they’re stressed, and those are the times when people are more likely to spread the virus,” Schaffner said. , adding that his own granddaughter had four flights canceled during the holidays. He recommends wearing a mask while at the airport and on the plane.

“I think all of us in infectious disease and public health would recommend that masks are not perfect, but they are an extra layer of protection,” Schaffner said.

Some local health officials are bracing for a possible spike in respiratory illnesses after the winter holidays since it happened as recently as Thanksgiving, Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said in an email to CNN Monday.

“After the Thanksgiving holiday period, we saw an increase in COVID cases of about 58% by the start of the Christmas holiday on December 21,” Freeman wrote. “Mortality from COVID has also increased over the same time period by about 65%.”

The flu also spiked after Thanksgiving, with more than a third of all flu hospitalizations and deaths this season reported in the first full week of data after Thanksgiving, and cases also jumped nearly as much.

Currently, seasonal flu activity remains high in the U.S. but continues to decline across much of the country, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the improvements, the flu may not have peaked yet.

The CDC estimates there have been at least 18 million cases, 190,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths from the flu so far this season.

Regarding the current state of Covid-19, the increases appear to be relatively mild. Hospitalizations are rising in most states, although the overall rate is still a fraction of what it was during the other waves. The number of new hospital admissions jumped almost 50% over the past month. Hospitalizations among the elderly are nearing a peak due to Delta waves – and rising fast.

Freeman said reports after the winter holidays are expected to continue to show an increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths, likely attributable to increased travel across the country, large family gatherings, fewer people getting vaccinated against Covid- 19 and flu shots and fewer people following mitigation measures, such as masking and social distancing.

“Air traffic has also returned to pre-pandemic levels and there are no longer restrictions on wearing masks on planes or in airports where viruses can circulate easily. Same for bus transportation,” Freeman said. “Fortunately, we are seeing less RSV in children compared to our high points earlier in December, so the respiratory illness is stabilizing and becoming less of a triple threat of COVID, flu and RSV.”

As health officials brace for a possible wave of respiratory viruses in the coming weeks, people may not just be getting the flu, Covid-19 and RSV, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“We’re focused on those three, but there are others — the common cold and others,” Benjamin said.

Overall, “we should expect more respiratory illnesses,” he said. “The best way to reduce your risk is of course to get fully vaccinated for those for which we have a vaccine, so flu and Covid, with the new bivalent version, are the two most important at the moment.”

Benjamin added that it’s still important to wash your hands often, wear a mask when traveling on vacation and stay home when you’re sick.

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