Infectious Disease

A ‘perfect storm for a terrible holiday season’

December 05, 2022

2 min read

Source/Disclosures

Disclosures:
Fryhofer and Walensky report no relevant financial disclosures.

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Influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19 have come together to pose a serious health threat this holiday season, according to experts.

During a press conference, CDC Director Rochelle P WalenskyMD, MPH, said the agency has documented at least 8.7 million influenza illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations due to influenza and 4,500 influenza-associated deaths, as well as a 14 pediatric deaths caused by influenza.

CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, encouraged the public to get vaccinated against influenza and COVID-19 in a press conference. Source: Adobe Stock

“Hospitalizations for flu continue to be the highest we have seen at this time of year in a decade, demonstrating the significantly earlier flu season we are experiencing,” Walensky said.

Compounding the problem, the agency has observed “lower rates of vaccinations compared to this time last year.”

“I want to emphasize that flu vaccines can be lifesaving and importantly, there’s still time to get vaccinated to be protected against flu this season, and its potentially serious consequences,” Walensky said.

sandra FryhoferMD, MACP, FRCP, chair of the AMA Board of Trustees and an adjunct associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, agreed with Walensky and said this year’s influenza season was “off to a rough start.”

“Flu is here, it started early,” Fryhofer said. “With COVID and RSV also circulating, it’s a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season. Over the last few years, COVID protective measures also prevented [the] spread of flu and other respiratory infections, but we’re really no longer in that bubble. And that’s why it’s so important to get vaccinated for both flu and COVID.”

There are currently no commercially available vaccines for RSV, but there are several promising candidates in the pipeline for both infants and older adults. Healio has previously reported on the surge in RSV cases in children this year.

Walensky also noted an “expected rise” in COVID-19 cases since the Thanksgiving holiday.

“This rise in cases and hospitalizations is especially worrisome as we move into the winter months when more people are assembling indoors with less ventilation, and as we approach the holiday season where many are gathering with loved ones across multiple generations,” she said.

Fryhofer acknowledged that some people may have “booster fatigue,” but urged the public to receive both influenza vaccines and COVID-19 boosters at the same time.

“I know everyone’s tired of getting shots,” Fryhofer said. “But understand, you could get really, really sick this year and ruin your holiday celebrations if you don’t get vaccinated. It takes two weeks to build up protected antibodies, which is another reason to go ahead and get vaccinated now.”

Fryhofer added that this year’s quadrivalent influenza vaccines include two strains apiece of influenzas A and B.

“Different flu strains can circulate within the same flu season,” Fryhofer said. “Right now, we’re seeing outbreaks of influenza type A, and the only thing worse than getting flu once in a season is getting it again. So even if you’ve already had flu this season, you should still get vaccinated once you recover from the acute illness to keep you from getting it again, with a different flu strain.”

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