Disturbing trends point to severe flu and RSV season

FLupus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are just beginning in the Northern Hemisphere, and experts agree that the 2022-2023 season in the making will be more severe than it was a few years ago (relatively mild). It could even be worse than pre-COVID-19 seasons.

Health data company IQVIA analyzed data from insurance claims filed by doctors’ offices, hospitals and urgent care centers in the country over three decades and focused on case trends. in the previous year. The team found that flu diagnoses were being tracked at a record high. Even before flu season started, back in the spring of 2022, flu cases had started to trend higher than the average for the past three years, reaching nearly 950,000 cases per week by mid-October (compared to the average for the past three years) about 400,000 at the same time in 2019, just before the pandemic began).

These higher rates are not entirely unexpected. Flu cases dropped dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, when people had less contact with each other and often followed mitigation measures to control COVID-19, such as wearing masks and staying away. society. Those behaviors helped stop the spread of the flu. However, current flu numbers are “trending higher than every year since 2012 by a significant amount,” said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IQVIA Institute.

Experts are also concerned about another worrying flu trend. Flu season in the Southern Hemisphere, which usually tells the United States what to expect, has come early and hard this year. For example, Australia has faced its worst flu season in five years, with almost 30,000 laboratory-confirmed flu cases peaking every week in June; flu season there tends to peak later, between July and September.

Other respiratory viruses — SARS-CoV-2 and RSV — are also on the rise. COVID-19 is still responsible for about 260,000 infections per week average in the United States, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intestinal and Respiratory Virus Surveillance System laboratories reported a level of 500%. percentage increase in positive tests for RSV from the beginning of September. RSV affects children and the elderly hardest. “This virus is hitting really hard this year,” said Dr. Juanita Mora, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association and an allergist and immunologist at the Chicago Allergy Center. One reason why cases are increasing rapidly (especially among young children), and so early in the season, may be because COVID-19 restrictions closing schools and keeping children at home have protected many of them have not had an infection in the past two years. “Generally 100% of children will have RSV by the age of two, but that is not the case now,” says Mora. “For the past three years, we haven’t had an RSV season, so we have a group of kids who lack the immunity they normally have.”

Although a vaccine is available to protect children from RSV, it is only approved for those at greatest risk of severe illness, such as premature babies and those born with lung disease. or heart. This vaccine needs to be given monthly during the infection season, and most children are not eligible for the vaccine. For them, Mora says, the best defenses are the same behaviors that protect children from the flu and COVID-19: keeping kids up to date with their flu and COVID-19 shots, washing hands frequently and avoid close contact with children who are coughing or sneezing.

With flu and RSV cases rising so quickly, hospitals in some parts of the country are feeling the strain. But the situation could get worse when new COVID-19 variantsome of them are evading vaccination protections, continuing to proliferate this winter.

What contributes to the rapid and historic rise in respiratory diseases? It could be a combination of factors, including a mild season before the pandemic as well as sluggish flu vaccination rates. While it’s still relatively early in the flu season, flu vaccine intake is down nearly 9% from what was normal so far in pre-pandemic years.

Experts say that while these signs are worrisome, the United States is not necessarily suffering from a severe virus season like countries like Australia. If more people get vaccinated against flu and COVID-19, that could reduce the impact of the virus circulating more heavily than usual.

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