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Respiratory Illness Levels High to Very High Across US

Flu is rising and driving most of the current hospitalizations.

January 8, 2024

According to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), post-holiday levels of respiratory illness have been designated as high to very high in most of the United States.

Respiratory illness—defined by the CDC as an illness presenting a fever plus a cough or sore throat that caused people to seek healthcare—was elevated or increased across most areas of the country last week, with 39 jurisdictions experiencing high or very high activity.

Nationally, emergency department (ED) visits due to influenza (flu) and COVID-19 were elevated in all age groups and increasing in all but school-aged children. Recent, holiday-related school closures and associated changes in healthcare-seeking behavior were identified as possible impacting trends ED visits among school-aged children for flu and COVID-19. RSV-related ED visits decreased slightly.

“The influenza virus is the thing that’s really skyrocketing right now,” Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky public health commissioner and Association of State and Territorial Health Officials president, told National Public Radio (NPR). “Influenza is sharply escalating and driving more hospitalizations.”

“After the holidays, after we’ve traveled and gathered, we are seeing what is pretty typical of this time of year, which is a lot of respiratory viruses,” added Dr. Mandy Cohen, CDC director. “We’re seeing particularly high circulation in the southeast, but no part of the country is spared.”

“The thing that is putting folks into the hospital and unfortunately taking their lives—the virus that is still the most severe [at the moment]—is the COVID virus,” Cohen continued, citing the latest weekly data showing 29,000 new COVID-19 hospitalizations and 1,200 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

According to NPR, some U.S. hospitals—specifically in Massachusetts, Illinois, and California—are again mandating masks for staff and, in some cases, for patients and visitors as well, as a preventative measure.

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