By Caitlin Tilley, Health Reporter For Dailymail.Com
19:38 22 Dec 2023, updated 20:26 22 Dec 2023
- Flu rates are rising, with 17 states reporting high levels of flu-like illnesses
- Jasmyne Kite, 9, from North Carolina, passed away on Monday from the flu
- READ MORE: Is the US on track for an explosive winter outbreak in care homes?
America is in the throes of a tripledemic, as CDC officials warned RSV is in ‘full swing’ while Covid continues to hospitalize more than 10,000 people weekly and flu is sweeping across the country.
Health officials are carefully watching JN.1 – a new, highly mutated Covid variant – which experts say could cause one of the largest US waves yet.
JN.1 accounts for an estimated 20 percent of cases, but the CDC expects it to cause half of cases over the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, high levels of flu-like illnesses were reported last week in 17 states — up from 14 the week before, the CDC said Friday.
It comes as surging Covid cases in wastewater has led some scientists to consider whether the virus is now targeting people’s guts and morphing into a stomach bug.
Covid traditionally infects people through the nose and mouth and multiplies in the respiratory tract, sometimes migrating to the lungs, but some virologists believe the virus has altered its requirements for entering cells, meaning it can more easily infect the gut.
Scientists around the world, including in the US, are picking up traces of Covid in much higher quantities in wastewater.
Stomach bugs are shed in large amounts in the fecal waste of infected individuals.
There were more than 23,000 new Covid hospital admissions in the week ending December 9 – the fifth consecutive week numbers have risen and the highest levels seen since February.
However, it is still 33 percent lower than the 34,932 hospitalizations this time last year.
CDC data shows that daily hospitalizations due to Covid have risen by three percent in the first week of December.
Nationally, weekly Covid death rates are still 36 times lower than the peak of 2021 and 24 times lower than the peak of 2020, but they are expected to continue growing into winter.
The new variant JN.1 was first detected in the US in September and now accounts for an estimated 20 percent of cases.
The CDC expects it to reach 50 percent in the next two weeks, said Dr Manisha Patel, the agency’s chief medical officer of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Meanwhile, more than half of states, particularly those in the South, have reported high or very high flu activity as of the week ending December 16.
The threshold for high is if at least two of the following are in the top percentiles nationally: the rate of flu-related hospitalizations, the percentage of deaths resulting from flu or the percentage of patient visits to outpatient clinics with flu symptoms.
Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico and South Carolina all have very high levels of flu.
New York City, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming have high levels.
For that week, flu rates were eight per 100,000 people across the US, compared to 36 per 100,000 this time last year – almost five times lower.
RSV is also ramping up nationwide. Louisiana, South Carolina and New Mexico have very high levels of respiratory illness, according to the CDC, as do Mississippi and Alabama.
In the week ending December 9, the rate of RSV hospitalizations was 2.3 per 100,000 people, compared to 3.3 this time last year.
Whitney Marvin, a pediatric intensive care specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, told the Washington Post this year is the worst RSV season she can recall.
Children are staying in the hospital for longer because they are sicker, and the RSV season began later than last year’s, meaning RSV has overlapped with the spike of other winter respiratory viruses, including flu.
Dr Marvin’s hospital has been forced to coordinate with other hospitals in the state and in nearby North Carolina to divert patients.
The CDC said: ‘In some parts of the country, hospital beds for children are already nearly as full as they were this time last year.’
Despite the high levels, the CDC warned the worst is still to come.
The agency cautioned that the current strain on the healthcare system could mean ‘patients with other serious health conditions may face delays in receiving care.’
And some children are losing their lives to seasonal illnesses.
Nine-year-old Jasmyne Kite, from Wilson, North Carolina, passed away on December 18 after catching the common virus.
She is one of 14 flu-related deaths in the state so far in 2023.
After feeling ill for five days, Jasmyne was taken to the hospital last Wednesday after she began slipping in and out of consciousness.
The flu virus had infected her heart, doctors said, and Jasmyne suffered a cardiac arrest.
The flu had brought on viral myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle.
Matthew Ledoux, ECU health’s pediatrician-in-chief in Greenville, where Jasmyne was treated, said flu can be deadly for children.
‘Their systems are pretty young, and they haven’t been exposed to most of those things,’ he told Celveland19.
Each year, up to 200 children die from the flu across America.
Around 42 percent of children are vaccinated against the virus this year.
The ECU Health Medical Center in Greenville said there were between 80 and 90 positive Covid and RSV cases in children in their system last week and over 370 positive flu cases.
Meanwhile, seniors in the US could be facing a ‘great risk of serious illness’ due to their low vaccination rates.
Health officials stressed an urgent need’ to protect the vulnerable population from an outbreak of respiratory viruses.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report today found that as of December 10, just one-third of residents were up to date with their Covid vaccine, and just 10 percent had received a vaccine for RSV.
A higher share – 72 percent – have received their flu vaccine.
Older residents in nursing homes are at heightened risk of severe illness and death from any one of the three viruses due to their weakened immune systems.
During the 2021-2022 flu season, the death rate for people 65 years and older was around 7.4 per 100,000 population, compared to 0.1 per 100,000 people among those aged 18 to 49 years.
Health experts have warned America is battling one of the worst winter cold seasons they’ve seen as cases of Covid, flu, and RSV continue to climb and put pressure on hospitals.