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Friday, February 3, 2023

U.S. Flu Hospitalizations Highest in a Decade

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A sign for flu shots outside a Wegmans supermarket
Only a quarter of American adults have received their flu shot this year.  Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The cumulative number of hospitalizations for the flu is at its highest point in this part of the influenza season since 2010-2011. So far this season, 26 people for every 100,000 in the U.S. have been hospitalized with the illness, according to the CDC.

Hospitalizations are rising rapidly, with nearly 26,000 patients admitted during the week ending December 3, according to CDC. The previous week, almost 20,000 patients were admitted, which was nearly double the number from the week before that, reports NBC News’ Aria Bendix.

The CDC estimates the flu has caused at least 13 million illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations and 7,300 deaths since October. Only an estimated 9 million people caught the flu during the 2021-2022 season, according to NBC News.

“The fact that we’re already at this high level going into the holiday season makes me nervous,” Scott Hensley, a microbiologist and flu expert at the University of Pennsylvania, tells CNBC’s Spencer Kimball.

Most states in the U.S. are experiencing high or very levels of the flu, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The rise in cases comes at a time when hospitals are also treating patients suffering from Covid-19 and RSV. The rate of RSV infections has fallen in recent weeks, per NBC News. But at the same time, Covid-19 hospitalizations are on the rise. According to the New York Times’ Covid-19 dashboard, roughly 37,500 people are currently hospitalized with Covid-19, up 31 percent from two weeks ago.

The combination of the three viruses is straining hospitals that have been overwhelmed throughout the past three years of the pandemic. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that 77 percent of ICU beds in the U.S. were occupied last week, per Fortune’s Erin Prater. Over 90 percent of those patients had something other than Covid-19.

In a Monday press briefing, CDC director Rochelle Walensky encouraged people to get flu shots and updated Covid-19 boosters, per the Washington Post’s Fenit Nirappil. No vaccine for RSV exists.

“You could get really sick this year and ruin your holiday celebration if you don’t get vaccinated,” Sandra Fryhofer, board chair of the American Medical Association, said during Monday’s briefing, per Fortune.

Only a quarter of adults and 40 percent of children have received a flu vaccine so far this year, per Vox’s Keren Landman. According to the CDC, the percentage of pregnant people who have received a flu vaccine was 12 percent lower at the end of October compared to the same time last year. Walensky said the flu vaccines are a good match for this year’s strains, per the Post.

Walensky also recommended masking for people on public transportation, people who are immunocompromised or at severe risk of disease, and people living in areas with high levels of Covid-19, per NBC News.

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