Early figures for respiratory virus infections from the first week of the new year show many sickened across the country from COVID-19, the flu, and RSV. And while numbers are not nearly as high, doctors are getting questions from parents following a couple of school outbreaks of whooping cough from the end of last year.
The CDC says flu and COVID-19 cases aren't expected to peak anytime soon.
"Usually, it lasts about 4-6 weeks after you start to see these surges in cases," Dr. Andy Pekosz with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says. "We fully expect the rest of January into February that we'll have a high amount of activity."
The CDC says the JN.1 variant now accounts for more than 60% of new COVID-19 infections, and the virus is still mutating.
"The thing that would be most concerning is if we had a mutation that changed enough that the current vaccine didn't work very well to confirm protection for it," said Dr. Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. "People do need to realize, as much as we all want to be out of the woods with COVID, we're not totally out of the woods yet and things could happen that would put us in a difficult situation.”
Wastewater data, a public health tool that tracks community virus spread regardless of testing, shows viral activity is "very high," even higher than last year, especially in the Midwest.
The CDC says the JN.1 strain doesn't "appear to pose additional risks," with hospitalizations and deaths lower than in years past. But cases are higher than this time last year, and COVID-related hospitalizations are ticking upward.
"We're still at the early stages of this surge, and so hospitalizations usually come a few days or a week after the case numbers start to rise," said Dr. Pekosz.
The CDC also says flu-like activity is high or very high in all but 11 states, sickening more than 10 million people, with 20,000 people hospitalized by the end of December. The virus has killed 6,500 people so far this season.
But the good news is, the CDC says RSV activity is slowing down in parts of the country, especially in the south.
And experts say the current flu vaccine is holding up well against this year's dominant strain. Plescia says the "single most important thing" people can do is get vaccinated. It's also important to stay home when you're feeling sick, with Plescia adding, "the best-case scenario going forward would be if people would pay a little more heed to that."
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