Physicians aren’t required to report every positive flu test to public health officials, so the CDC and others monitor likely flu activity by looking at “flu-like illness.” These are defined as having a fever of at least 100 degrees and a cough and/or sore throat with no other known cause.
Dr. James Cutrell, an infectious disease expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said “we’re definitely seeing a pretty steep rise” in documented flu and flu-like illnesses, including in children and adults.
On Wednesday, a San Diego school district said there were “hundreds” of absences at a local high school, likely due to a flu outbreak, NBC affiliate KNSD reported. Most of the children said they suffered from cough, sore throat, congestion and fever.
So far, tests for Covid have been negative, the station reported. Several students, however, tested positive for the flu.
“Unfortunately, we were expecting this to be a difficult flu season,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, deputy public health officer for the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, according to reports. of the KNSD. “Alongside Covid-19, other respiratory viruses are also making a rapid comeback.”
This includes respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
“Right now we’re in a huge spike in RSV,” said Dr. Frank Esper, an infectious disease expert at the Cleveland Clinic. RSV often affects babies, but can also be problematic in adults with underlying lung problems, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Esper said RSV cases are usually seen in December and January, but over the past two years the typical RSV season has come earlier, during summer and early fall. Rhinoviruses and enteroviruses are also circulating earlier than usual. Indeed, measures to curb the spread of Covid have not allowed other viruses to spread as they always have.
“The flu is on the rise, but so are all these other viruses that have been knocked down,” Esper said. “Maybe this is the new normal. We don’t know.”
There is no vaccine against RSV; however, there is one for the flu. So far this year, Walensky said, “about 12 million flu shots have been given in pharmacies and doctor’s offices.”
That’s slightly fewer than the number of doses given at this time last year, she said, acknowledging vaccine fatigue could be contributing to the lower rate so far.
It takes about two weeks after an influenza vaccine injection to provide full protection. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get the annual flu shot.
“We want people to be protected before they get the flu in their own communities,” Walensky said.
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Miguel Almaguer contributed.
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