As the United States enters mid-January of 2024, it is grappling with a concerning surge in respiratory illnesses. For the ninth consecutive week, hospitalizations for COVID-19 and other respiratory infections have been on the rise. The latest data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sheds light on the evolving landscape of COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) across the nation.
According to the CDC, the activity of respiratory viruses remains persistently high in 35 states, New York City, and the District of Columbia, although there has been a slight decrease from the previous week. Emergency department visits for diagnosed cases of influenza, COVID-19, and RSV have remained elevated, with a recent slight decrease possibly influenced by holiday-related healthcare-seeking behavior.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have surged, reaching 35,801 for the week ending January 6. However, it is important to note that this figure is lower than the hospitalization rate recorded at the same time last year. Among different age groups, individuals aged 65 and older have the highest rate of weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations can be attributed to the prevalence of the JN.1 variant, which accounts for approximately 61.6% of cases in the U.S. This variant carries mutations that may enhance transmissibility or immune system evasion. Additionally, COVID-19 wastewater viral activity levels remain very high nationally, serving as an early indicator of a potential increase in cases. Encouragingly, there are indications that wastewater activity levels may be slowing in the Midwest and Northeast.
Influenza activity remains elevated, with key indicators showing an upward trajectory. Although weekly new hospital admissions for influenza slightly decreased, the U.S. CDC anticipates monitoring for a potential second period of increased influenza activity post-winter holidays. As for RSV, hospitalizations appear stable, with a marginal increase in the weekly hospitalization rate. Unlike COVID-19 and influenza, RSV hospitalizations peak among children aged 4 and younger, followed by adults aged 65 and older.
Despite the availability of vaccines for COVID-19, influenza, and RSV, vaccine coverage remains suboptimal. Only a fraction of adults have received the updated COVID-19 vaccine, and flu vaccine coverage is also relatively low. The RSV vaccine, introduced for the first time this season, has been received by a small percentage of adults aged 60 and older.
As of January 12, elevated respiratory illness activity is reported across most of the U.S., with 37 states experiencing high or very high levels. COVID-19 wastewater viral activity remains persistently high, indicating a continuation of the respiratory virus surge. General respiratory illness symptoms show an upward trajectory, reflecting the heightened viral activity.
While hospital bed occupancy remains stable nationally, some facilities report significant increases in hospital admissions. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and young children, are most affected, with emergency department visits highest among children under 2 and adults over 65. Disparities in respiratory sickness exist, with nonwhite populations experiencing higher hospitalization rates. Social factors, including limited access to primary care and lower vaccination rates, contribute to these disparities.
To mitigate the impact on vulnerable populations, a multi-faceted approach is crucial. Effective vaccination campaigns, enhanced healthcare access, and stringent public health measures are imperative. Continued monitoring and adaptability in response strategies will be essential in navigating the evolving landscape of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV. Public awareness and proactive measures will play a pivotal role in collectively overcoming the challenges posed by these respiratory infections.