RSV slows, but flu and COVID-19 cases are soaring

A medical officer administers a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Amazon Meeting Center in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by GRANT HINDSLEY/AFP via Getty Images)

Respiratory virus activity is rising nationwide, leading to spikes in flu and COVID-19 cases, as the spread of RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, is slowing down.

Overall, COVID-19 is still a factor as severe respiratory viruses are causing spikes in emergency room visits (12%) and hospitalizations (17%) in the past week due primarily driven by the evolving coronavirus known as JN.1, an omicron variant first detected in the U.S. in September 2023 making up an estimated 20% of virus cases, the Associated Press reported.

Hospitalizations for people suffering respiratory illnesses have skyrocketed during the current flu season based on recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

RELATED: Flu cases on the rise, RSV infections may be peaking, US health officials say

The CDC noted that approximately 29,059 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19, and another 15,000 were in the hospital for the flu and thousands more patients for RSV illnesses during the week ending Dec. 23, 2023.

With COVID-19 cases spiking, the CDC is warning the public about a rise in flu activity, accounting for more than 7 million illnesses and 73,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths so far this season. 

Health officials attribute the increase in COVID and flu cases to low vaccination rates, with less than half of adults and children getting a flu vaccine heading into the new year, which could cause another surge in virus cases.

RELATED: CDC issues alert over high RSV vaccine demand

High levels of flu-like illnesses were reported in 17 states — up from 14, the CDC told the AP on Dec. 22.

Citing the CDC, the AP noted that vaccinations were down in 2023, with roughly 42% of U.S. adults getting flu shots in the first week of December, down from 45% at the same time in 2022.

Americans have also been slow to get other vaccinations. Only about 18% have gotten an updated COVID-19 shot that became available in September 2023. At nursing homes, about a third of residents are up to date with COVID-19 vaccines.

And only 17% of adults 60 and older had received new shots against another respiratory virus. RSV is a common cause of mild cold-like symptoms, but it can be dangerous for infants and older people.

In December 2023, the CDC sent a health alert to U.S. doctors urging them to immunize their patients against RSV, COVID-19, and the flu. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.  This story was reported from Washington, D.C.