Santa’s super-spreader season: Health officials say flu, COVID set to spike during the holidays

December 25, 2023 | by


As the holiday season approaches, health officials are warning of a potentially dangerous combination: Santa Claus and COVID-19. With holiday gatherings, increased travel, and a new variant of the virus circulating, experts predict a spike in both flu and COVID-19 infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported high levels of flu-like illnesses in 17 states last week, up from 14 the previous week. Additionally, the omicron variant of COVID-19, which is estimated to account for 20% of cases, is expected to rise to 50% in the next two weeks. Despite the potential for increased transmission, health officials stress that vaccines and antiviral medications are still effective against the new variant. However, vaccination rates are down this year, posing a concern for public health. The CDC is urging doctors to immunize their patients against flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common cause of mild cold-like symptoms that can be severe for vulnerable populations. With respiratory infections already causing heavy traffic in emergency rooms, health experts warn that the next few weeks could see a significant increase in cases.

Santas super-spreader season: Health officials say flu, COVID set to spike during the holidays

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Flu and COVID-19 infections expected to spike

Health officials are predicting a spike in flu and COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks, driven by holiday gatherings, a high number of unvaccinated individuals, and the spread of a new version of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported high levels of flu-like illnesses in 17 states, up from 14 the previous week. Dr. Manisha Patel of the CDC noted that increased travel and gatherings during the holiday season contribute to the spread of viruses. Additionally, officials are monitoring a new version of the coronavirus known as JN.1, which accounts for an estimated 20% of cases and is expected to reach 50% in the next two weeks. While this variant may spread more easily, there is no evidence to suggest it causes more severe disease than previous strains. Current vaccines and antiviral medications remain effective against the omicron variant.

Decrease in flu vaccinations

Unfortunately, flu vaccinations have seen a decrease this year. Only 42% of U.S. adults received flu shots by the first week of December, down from about 45% during the same period last year. Despite current vaccines being well-matched to the strain causing most illnesses, vaccination rates have declined. The strain typically associated with the flu does not typically cause as many deaths and hospitalizations as other variants. Not only have flu vaccinations declined, but there has also been a slow uptake of other vaccinations, including updated COVID-19 shots. Only 18% of individuals have received the updated COVID-19 shot available since September. Additionally, only 17% of adults aged 60 and older have received new shots targeted against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can be dangerous for infants and older individuals.

Health alert issued for immunizations

The CDC has issued a health alert urging doctors to immunize their patients against a trio of viruses, including the flu, COVID-19, and RSV. The Carolinas have seen a significant increase in respiratory infections in emergency rooms, prompting concerns about potential worsening of infections in the next four to eight weeks. Patients are experiencing wait times for hospital beds, creating strain on the healthcare system. The CDC’s health alert to doctors aims to prevent further spread and severity of these respiratory illnesses.

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Santas super-spreader season: Health officials say flu, COVID set to spike during the holidays

Concerns for nursing home residents

Only a third of nursing home residents are up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, and immunization rates for other respiratory viruses are also low. This is a cause for concern, as RSV can be particularly dangerous for infants and older individuals. Low vaccination rates in nursing homes and among vulnerable populations increase the risk of severe illness and hospitalization. Efforts are needed to ensure that nursing home residents and other vulnerable individuals receive the necessary immunizations for their protection.

Impact on South Carolina

South Carolina is experiencing an increase in respiratory infections, including flu and other viruses. Flu tends to have a greater impact when cold weather is prevalent, and the state’s warmer temperatures have likely contributed to a slower spread of the virus. However, experts warn that the situation could worsen in the next four to eight weeks as weather conditions change and people continue to gather during the holiday season. The state and its healthcare system must prepare for a potential surge in infections and ensure proper resources are allocated to manage the increasing demand for healthcare services.

Support from Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. This support allows for the dissemination of accurate and reliable information to the public regarding various health issues, including the flu and COVID-19. The AP is solely responsible for all content related to health and science.

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In conclusion, health officials are warning of a spike in flu and COVID-19 infections due to holiday gatherings, a high number of unvaccinated individuals, and the spread of new variants. Vaccination rates for both the flu and other respiratory viruses have decreased, posing a risk for severe illness and hospitalization. concern for nursing home residents and vulnerable populations. The Carolinas are currently experiencing a heavy burden on the healthcare system due to respiratory infections. South Carolina may also face challenges in managing the spread of infections in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Harvard University is grappling with a donor rebellion, while controversial medical experiments and art thefts raise ethical and security concerns. These topics highlight the ongoing challenges and complexities faced in various aspects of society.

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