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

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CNN

Infectious disease and public health experts are increasingly concerned that the United States will face even more respiratory infections in January.

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

“These are highly contagious viruses – and people have generally put the Covid-19 and Covid vaccination behind them. They didn’t pay much attention to the flu. They don’t wear masks,” Schaffner said. And if you’re around other people, that’s an opportunity for these three viruses — flu, Covid, and even RSV — to spread from person to person. So we expect an increase in these viruses after the holidays.”

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

When that happens, “people are together for really long periods of time, and they’re not wearing masks, and they’re tired and stressed, and those are times when people are more likely to spread the virus,” he said. Schaffner. . , adding that her own granddaughter had four canceled flights over the holidays. He recommends masking up at the airport and on a plane.

“I think all of us with infectious diseases and public health would recommend that masks aren’t 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 break since it was seen recently after Thanksgiving, said Lori Tremmel Freeman, executive director of the National Association of Health Officials counties and cities, in an email to CNN on Monday.

“After the Thanksgiving holiday period, we saw an increase in COVID cases of approximately 58% through the start of the Christmas holiday on December 21,” Freeman wrote. “COVID deaths have also increased by about 65% over this same period.”

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

Currently, seasonal influenza activity It remains high in the United States, but continues to decline in most parts of the country, according to data released Friday by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the improvements, the flu may not have peaked yet.

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

Regarding the current status of Covid-19, the increases seem relatively moderate. Hospitalizations are rising in most states, though the overall rate is still only a fraction of what it was in other surges. New hospital admissions have jumped nearly 50% in the past month. Hospitalizations among the elderly are approaching the peak of the Delta surge – and rising rapidly.

Freeman said reports after the winter break 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 are up to date on their Covid-19 vaccinations and flu shots, and fewer people are following mitigation measures, such as masking and social distancing.

“Air travel has also returned to pre-pandemic levels and there are no longer restrictions on wearing masks on planes or at airports where viruses can easily circulate. Ditto for buses,” Freeman said. “Fortunately, we are seeing less RSV in children compared to our peaks in early December, so respiratory disease is stabilizing and becoming less of a part of the triple threat of COVID, influenza and RSV.”

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

“We’re focusing on those three, but there are others out there — colds and others,” Benjamin said.

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

Benjamin added that it also remains important to wash your hands often, wear a mask while on vacation, and stay home when sick.

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