FThe lu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season has just begun in the Northern Hemisphere, and there is consensus among experts that the 2022-2023 season is shaping up to be more severe than it has been in the past few years (relatively mild). It may be worse than the seasons before COVID-19.
Health data company IQVIA has been analyzing data from insurance claims made by doctors’ offices, hospitals and urgent care centers in the country for three decades, and focused on case trends over the previous year. The team found that influenza diagnoses are already tracking record levels. Even before flu season started, in the spring of 2022, flu cases began trending well above the average over the past three years, reaching nearly 950,000 cases per week by mid-October (compared to about 400,000 at the same time in 2019). , just before the epidemic. It began).
These higher rates are not entirely unexpected. Influenza cases dropped dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, when people had less contact with each other and generally followed mitigation measures to control COVID-19, such as wearing masks and social distancing. These behaviors helped suppress the spread of influenza. But, says Murray Aitken, executive director of the IQVIA Institute, current flu numbers “have been trending more than every year since 2012 by a significant amount.”
Experts are also concerned about another worrying trend for the flu. The Southern Hemisphere’s flu season, which often gives the United States a preview of what to expect, has hit early and hard this year. Australia, for example, faced its worst flu season in five years, with nearly 30,000 lab-confirmed cases of influenza at its weekly peak in June; The flu season there tends to peak later, between July and September.
And other respiratory viruses — SARS-CoV-2 and RSV — are also on the rise. COVID-19 is still responsible for about 260,000 injuries every week In the United States on average, labs that are part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Respiratory and Enterovirus Surveillance System report a 500% rate. Increase in the rate of positive tests RSV from early September. Respiratory syncytial virus most severely affects children and the elderly. “This virus is hitting hard this year,” says Dr. Juanita Mora, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association and an allergist and immunologist at the Chicago Allergy Center. One reason cases are rising so quickly (especially among younger children), and so early in the season, may be that COVID-19 restrictions that have closed schools and kept children at home have protected many of them from any infection over the past two years. “Overall 100% of children will have had RSV by age 2, but that is not the case now,” Mora says. “For the past three years, we haven’t had RSV season, so we have a group of kids who lack the immunity they might normally have.”
Although there is a vaccine to protect babies from respiratory syncytial virus, it is only approved for babies at high risk of developing serious illness, such as premature babies and those born with lung or heart disease. The vaccine requires monthly injections throughout the infection season, and most children are not eligible for the vaccination. For them, Mora says, the best protections are the same behaviors that protect kids from flu and COVID-19: keeping kids up to date with the latest flu and COVID-19 cases, washing hands often, and avoiding close contact with coughing kids. or sneezing.
With flu and RSV cases rising so quickly, hospitals in some parts of the country are already feeling the strain. But the situation could get worse New COVID-19 variantsSome of them, some of which are evading protection from vaccinations, are continuing to spread this winter.
What contributes to the rapid and historical rise of respiratory disease? It’s likely a combination of factors, including mild seasons during the early part of the pandemic as well as slow flu vaccination rates. Although still relatively early in the flu season, the flu vaccine uptake rate is about 9% lower than it is now typically during the pre-pandemic years.
Experts say that while these signs are worrying, the United States isn’t necessarily doomed to suffer a severe viral season like countries like Australia. If more people get sick with the flu and COVID-19, this could dampen the effects of the viruses circulating more than usual.
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