CDC Alert: Winter surge, respiratory virus illnesses hit 8 US states

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Credits: Reuters
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Credits: Reuters

United States: According to the latest update by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eight US states saw the most respiratory illness activity in the week leading up to New Year’s Eve.

The states are- Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Tennessee—as well as New York City on its own. They are deemed to be areas with the highest levels of infection in the week ending December 30, Newsweek report.

It is compared to the periods when the circulation of diseases such as COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and influenza are low.

Many states across the adjacent US had high or very high rates of respiratory illness, with the central Midwest, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Delaware, and Vermont having low to moderate infection rates.

The evaluation method used by the CDC

The CDC said its evaluation was based on the percentage of visits to healthcare providers wherein a cough or sore throat, as well as a fever, were reported, Newsweek report.

Except for school-age children, emergency department visits due to COVID-19 and influenza were elevated in all age groups. The viruses comprised 3 percent and 5.2 percent of all visits, respectively.

Visual Representation for flu infection

According to the Newsweek report, on the National level, week-by-week tracking of the three respiratory viruses showed that infections with the flu have shot up from the start of December, going from 8.2 percent of tests coming back positive in the week ending December 9 to 17.5 percent in the week ending December 30.

COVID infections have continued to creep up over the winter, with a test positivity rate of 12.4 percent in the latest recorded week.

The RSV infections climbed through October before appearing to peak at the end of November and dropped off in the latter half of December. They most recently had a test positivity rate of 10.2 percent.

Reason for an uptick in cases: by experts

According to Health officials, during the winter months, an uptick in infections was already anticipated. As colder weather tends to lead to an increased spread of viruses and other infections because immunity is lower.

New precautionary mandates and prescriptions

The rising cases of respiratory illnesses such as due to infections such as COVID and influenza have led to some hospitals in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C., bringing in fresh mask mandates.

Prescription for Tamiflu, given to fighting influenza peaked at 0.55 percent of prescriptions filled in the last week of 2023. It happened before dropping to 0.39 percent in the first week of January, that too despite an uptick in cases, according to research by GoodRx, a healthcare transparency outfit, Newsweek reported.

Tori Marsh, GoodRx’s research director, told Newsweek, We saw a dip in fills for Tamiflu, but it’s unlikely that the trend will persist,” and added further, “We expect that fills will continue to rise similarly to previous years.”

For COVID, Prescription antiviral medications Paxlovid and Lagevrio also rose the highest number in the final week of December, at 0.18 percent of all prescriptions, before dropping to 0.13 percent at the start of January.

Marsh said, “tracking in line with last year,” when COVID prescriptions peaked at the end of 2022 before tailing off over the remainder of the winter months.

Visual Representation for prescription and medication | Credits: AdobeStock Photo

According to a Newsweek report, while there are two approved medications for RSV, in some cases, patients with the virus are prescribed antibiotics to treat a secondary infection.

Prescriptions for oral antibiotics track shows, they rose in step with RSV infections—peaking at 1.61 percent two weeks before the end of the year—before falling to around 1.14 percent in January.

Marsh said the RSV season “peaked earlier than usual, at the end of December. Luckily, fills for these oral solution antibiotics are coming down and are [now] more in line with previous trends.”

Prescriptions following a past trend!

Prescriptions for influenza appear to be following the trend seen in the 2014-2015 winter, where it peaked in mid-December before dipping and peaking again toward the end of January.

COVID prescriptions have not seen anywhere near the demand of 2022, when at their height comprised 0.35 percent of all prescriptions.

Marsh mentioned that while demand for antibiotics tends to peak in late December and again in mid-February, based on previous winters’ trends, this year’s prescriptions “don’t seem to be tracking with previous RSV seasons, and peaked earlier and higher than normal,” Newsweek reported.

Nevertheless, she cautioned that “it’s hard to say what this will mean for the future, and doesn’t necessarily mean that fill trends will continue in line with previous trends.”