CDC Warns of Early Uptick in Respiratory Disease

Lucy Hicks

November 05, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning of an early surge in respiratory disease caused by multiple viruses. As influenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), SARS-CoV-2, and rhinovirus/enterovirus simultaneously circulate, the agency cautioned that this confluence of viral activity could strain the healthcare system, according to a CDC Health Network Alert advisory issued November 4.

"This early increase in disease incidence highlights the importance of optimizing respiratory virus prevention and treatment measures, including prompt vaccination and antiviral treatment," the alert stated.

The CDC reports that RSV activity is increasing nationally, but in some areas — such as the South and Mountain West — cases appear to be trending downward.

Influenza cases continue to climb, with the virus activity being the highest in the South, Mid-Atlantic, and the south-central West Coast, according to CDC data. "In fact, we're seeing the highest influenza hospitalization rates going back a decade," said José Romero, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a press briefing. The agency estimates that there have been 1.6 million illnesses, 13,000 hospitalizations, and 730 deaths from the flu so far this season. As of November 4, there have been two pediatric deaths.

COVID-19 cases appear to have plateaued in the past three weeks, Romero said; however, the CDC expects that there will be "high-level circulation of SARS-CoV-2 this fall and winter," the health alert stated.

The CDC advised that all eligible individuals aged 6-months or older should be vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza. To protect against RSV-hospitalization, high-risk children should receive the monoclonal antibody drug palivizumab (Synagis). High-risk children include infants born before 29 weeks, children younger than age 2 with chronic lung disease or hemodynamically significant congenital heart disease, and children with suppressed immune systems or neuromuscular disorders.

Any patient with confirmed or suspected flu who is hospitalized, at higher risk for influenza complications, or who has a severe or progressive illness should be treated as early as possible with antivirals, such as oral oseltamivir (Tamiflu).

Patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection with increased risk of complications should also be treated with antivirals, such as nirmatrelvir and ritonavir (Paxlovid) or remdesivir (Veklury).

Patients should also be reminded to wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when sick, and avoid close contact with people who are sick, the CDC advised.

"There's no doubt that we will face some challenges this winter," said Dawn O'Connell, HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, "but it's important to remember that RSV and flu are not new, and we have safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 and the flu."

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