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Flu hospitalizations rise as doctors battle omicron-fueled Covid surge

Covid-19 continues to be the main source of stress for many American hospitals, but the flu is making a comeback.

“We’re swimming in Covid right now,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, an infectious disease physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado. At the same time, he said, there has been a steady increase in flu cases, about 20 to 40 new cases over the past month.

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Influenza activity is “up,” O’Leary said, but “by no means overwhelming at this point.”

Nationwide, three children have died from the flu this season, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first two deaths occurred in December and were the first pediatric deaths from the disease in more than a year.

Flu hospitalizations also rose steadily, totaling up to 33,000 from Oct. 1 to Jan. 8, according to preliminary CDC data.

The number of flu-related hospital admissions reported to the federal government fell slightly over the past week, to 1,804, but the cumulative hospitalization rate so far this season is higher than the rate for the entire 2020-21 season, according to CDC data.

The highest cumulative hospitalization rates for this year are for adults 65 and older, at 9.6 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, said Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist who leads the CDC’s National Influenza Surveillance Team. .

This is followed by children 4 and under, with 4.8 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, she said, and adults aged 50 to 64, with 2.9 hospitalizations per 100,000.

“At the moment, it looks like this season is in the range of what you see most in January in a typical flu season,” Brammer said.

Seasonal flu essentially disappeared in the United States last year as more people worked from home and practiced social distancing due to the pandemic. But as states ease restrictions and more Americans return to work, health experts have predicted there could be a more severe flu season this year.

By all accounts, it has been. The CDC has estimated that there have been between 970 and 2,900 flu-related deaths in the United States since October 1.

Admittedly, the number of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths pales in comparison to those of Covid.

Covid hospitalizations in the United States set a new record on Thursday, rising 78% over the past two weeks to an average of 148,731 hospitalizations per day, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the Department of Health and of Social Services. The country is reporting an average of 1,890 Covid deaths per day.

The surge in Covid hospitalizations is thought to be fueled by the super-contagious variant of omicron.

While the rise in flu hospitalizations won’t have a huge impact on hospitals right now, doctors fear a continued rise could hurt already overstretched hospital staff.

“When patients come to the hospital with the flu, it certainly presents challenges in managing volumes in the emergency department,” said Akin Demehin, director of policy at the American Hospital Association. “To the extent that one of these patients has to be admitted to this hospital, that adds some pressure.”

Healthcare workers are also at risk, he said.

“There is also no need for a doctor or a nurse to be absent, which potentially has an impact on hospitals,” he said. “It could be any of the other critically important workers, from the people who cleaned the rooms to the respiratory therapist.”

So far, the eastern and central parts of the country are seeing the most flu cases, but that could change as flu is often unpredictable, Brammer previously said.

She urged the public to get a flu shot, saying the flu shot is the best way “to protect you and your family from the life-threatening consequences of flu infection”.

“Also, there are prescription drugs called antivirals that can be used to treat the flu,” she said. “The CDC recommends prompt treatment for people who have the flu or suspect the flu and are at higher risk for serious flu complications.”

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