As cases of several different respiratory diseases continue to rise, health officials and doctors are encouraging citizens to be cautious and take illnesses seriously, get them diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
Flu cases in the U.S. are on a steep incline in recent weeks, according to CDC data. COVID cases are also rising rapidly, including in Illinois, and RSV cases have overwhelmed the health care system for weeks.
“(We) have patients with respiratory symptoms, breathing problems, high fever,” said Dr. Mia Taormina, who works at Duly Health and Care Chicago. “We really don’t know if it’s going to be flu, COVID or RSV, because we’re looking at everything at the same time.”
Taormina said the rapid increase in flu hospitalizations is particularly alarming, given that the number has been greatly reduced during the COVID pandemic.
Dr. Sharon Welbel of Cook County Health expressed similar concerns, citing a CDC chart showing a surprising increase in flu cases in recent weeks.
“Right now it’s going up for influenza, and I don’t know when it’s going to go up,” he said.
In parts of the Southern Hemisphere, including Australia, the flu season is particularly problematic for children, and while 14 children have died from the flu so far this season, doctors fear the number could rise.
“The thing that hurts me as a pediatrician is when I see children hospitalized, and when I see them die from vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.
There are some keys to help prevent a rapid increase in cases of all three diseases. For starters, getting vaccinated against flu and COVID is critical, as both have been shown to be effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization.
“The most important thing right now is that everyone is vaccinated,” Welbel said.
Taormina said only one in three Illinois residents age 65 and older have received the new bivalent COVID boosters, a number she says needs to rise to prevent serious illness and help limit the spread of the virus, which can cause new illnesses. variant to rise.
Doctors are warning the public that it can take up to two weeks for an immune response to the flu and COVID vaccines, so they are encouraging people to get the shot to be protected this holiday season.
If you’re sick, doctors say getting tested, finding out what disease you have, and taking steps to treat it are all critical.
“If you have a fever, headache, respiratory symptoms and cough, don’t wait,” Taormina said. “Contact your provider if you qualify for a particular treatment.”
For flu patients, antivirals like Tamiflu can only be prescribed in the early stages of the disease. The same goes for Paxlovid, an antiviral that could help high-risk COVID patients.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday encouraged the use of masks to reduce the spread of the virus during the holiday season.
“There is no need to wait for CDC action to wear a mask,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “We will encourage all these preventive measures – washing hands, staying at home when sick, masking, increased ventilation – during the respiratory virus season, but especially in areas of high community level of COVID-19.”
The situation is troubling almost every state, with 47 states listed in the “high” or “very high” category when it comes to respiratory diseases, according to CDC data.
As cases of COVID have jumped in recent weeks and flu hospitalizations have surged to levels not seen in a decade, progress appears to be on the way — at least with regard to one disease.
As people begin to make vacation plans, and consider the spread of the virus, here are the latest data on each virus in Illinois and a broader picture nationwide.
Nationwide, the average daily number of COVID cases has risen 16% over the past two weeks, according to NBC News’ tally. The CDC recorded a nearly 18% increase in average daily hospitalizations due to COVID from the week ending November 22 to the week ending November 29.
Cases of COVID have certainly increased in Illinois in recent weeks. However, the situation does not compare to the rapid increase experienced earlier this year – when Illinois saw 250 cases per 100,000.
Following the uptick in the COVID metrics, dozens of Illinois counties are in high COVID community level status, including 12 that have moved to “high.” In these areas, masks are recommended according to state guidelines.
In addition, 51 counties, including Cook, Lake, DuPage and McHenry, have reached “moderate” community level COVID status, the data revealed. In “moderate” status, anyone at risk of serious illness must wear a mask or a high-quality respirator, such as an N95, when in public spaces. Also, if you’ve had contact with someone at high risk, try self-testing to detect infection before contact, according to the CDC.
The number of cases has risen steadily over the past few months, with the seven-day case rate nearly doubling between October and December. The seven-day rolling average was 12.2 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on October 3 before rising to 17.1 the following month and 23.4 by December 3.
When it comes to another key metric, hospitalizations, the number has doubled since the beginning of October. A total of 73 daily COVID-related hospitalizations were reported as of Oct. 1 compared to 154 as of Dec. 1, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
ICU availability has decreased as cases have increased, with 16% of beds available on December 2, down 5% from 21% availability on October 1, the data showed.
Flu hospitalizations are at a decade high across the country, with top CDC officials saying this year’s flu season is “starting to get rough.”
About 78,000 people have been hospitalized with the flu since the beginning of October. About 19,500 were newly hospitalized in the week ending Nov. 27, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services — nearly double the number of flu hospitalizations reported the previous week.
The CDC estimates that the flu has caused 8.7 million illnesses since October 1. That’s nearly 9 million cases estimated in the entire 2021-22 flu season.
Flu deaths have also approached last season’s total. The CDC estimates this year’s toll to be at least 4,500 as of Oct. 1, compared with 5,000 all of last season.
The spread of the flu has seen serious changes across the country, with Illinois now listed among states with “very high” flu activity. Activity was considered “high” across the state in the week ending Nov. 5, according to the CDC’s Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report. Indiana is listed as “moderate,” while Wisconsin is listed as “low” for flu activity.
Indiana is now considered “very high” while Wisconsin is listed as “high.”
RSV cases are likely to be highest in some areas of the country, such as the South and Southeast, and low in others, such as the Midwest and New England, according to Walensky.
Nationally, the number of positive weekly RSV tests fell from more than 19,000 in the week ending November 12 to about 7,500 in the week ending November 26. In Illinois, a number of positive antigen and PCR tests have been reported.
When it comes to antigen tests for RSV, 28.4% of the tests performed were said to be positive the week of October 15, according to data from health officials. From that point, there was a decline, with 26.5% of positive tests reported the week of October 22 and 14.5% the following week, November 5.
The PCR test followed the same pattern, although the number of positive results was not high. In the week of October 8, less than 14% of tests were positive before a significant increase to 22.8% in the following week. Progress is reported in the following weeks. As of November 12, 16.1% of PCR tests were considered positive, CDC data showed.