Flu, Covid-19 and RSV rates are so high that the CDC issued a health advisory

Published 3:10 pm Friday, December 29, 2023

As illness from the three respiratory viruses tracked by Kentucky health departments — influenza, Covid-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — continue to pile up, the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention has issued a health advisory urging more Americans to get vaccinated.

“Low vaccination rates, coupled with ongoing increases in national and international respiratory disease activity caused by multiple pathogens, including influenza viruses, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19), and RSV, could lead to more severe disease and increased healthcare capacity strain in the coming weeks,” says the advisory, which also reported a rise in multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children following Covid-19 infection.

The advisory says there is an urgent need to increase immunization for the flu, Covid-19, and RSV, along with the use of authorized and approved therapeutics this winter.

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As of Sept. 18, 58% of Kentucky’s total population was considered fully vaccinated for Covid-19, and 41% had received an additional dose, according to the state’s Covid-19 dashboard.

During the 2022-2023 flu season, 40.1% of Kentuckians got a flu vaccine. Among children, that rate was 47.1%, and among adults, it was 35.8%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

And it appears there aren’t enough of the recently approved RSV vaccines to go around, according to reporting by Louisville’s WDRB on Dec. 6.

Dr. Michael Kuduk, president of the Kentucky Medical Association, told Molly Jett of WDRB that the children’s RSV antibody injection is “pretty much not available” and the vaccine for pregnant women is “really hard to find.”

“Manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand,” Kuduk said. “It’s not going to help anybody this year in the middle of RSV season.”

In the week ended Dec. 16, emergency-department visits for respiratory illness increased for yet another week, to 3,921, up from 3,670 the week prior.

Of the latest week’s cases, 2,072 were for flu, up from 1,720 the week prior; 1,073 were for Covid-19, down from 1,134; and 776 for RSV, down from 816.

Among children 4 and younger, emergency-department visits due to respiratory illness increased slightly, to 1,303, up from 1,265 the week prior. Of those, 604 were for flu, up from 507; 570 were for RSV, down from 594; and 129 were for Covid-19, down from 164.

Among children 5 to 17, emergency-department visits due to respiratory illness increased to 810, up from 653 the week before. Of those, 653 were for flu, up from 498. Covid-19 and RSV numbers stayed about the same as the week before, at 86 and 71, respectively.

In that same week, hospital admissions for respiratory illness dropped a bit, to 617, down from 639 in the prior week. Of those, 310 were for Covid-19, down from 345; 171 were for RSV, down from 191; and 136 were for flu, up from 103.

Among children 4 and under, hospitalizations for respiratory illness increased to 130, up from 105 the week prior. Of those, 101 were for RSV, up from 94; 19 were for flu, up from 7; and 10 were for Covid-19, up from 7.

Among children 5 to 17, hospitalizations due to respiratory illness increased to 17, up from 10 the week prior. Of those, 13 were for flu, up from 4; 3 were for RSV, down from 4; and 1 was for Covid-19, the same as the week prior.

A CDC report for the week ended Dec. 16 showed that Covid-19 hospitalization rates in 11 Kentucky counties were above 2 hospitalizations per 10,000 residents, which the CDC considers high.

The leading county remains Letcher, with a rate of 2.3 hospitalizations per 100. The other high counties, with rates of 2.05 to 2.12, were all in northeastern Kentucky: Lewis, Greenup, Boyd, Carter, Rowan, Menifee, Morgan, Elliott, Lawrence and Martin.

Deaths: Since Oct. 1, the state health department has attributed 118 deaths to Covid-19 and six to flu. One Covid-19 death was reported during the week ended Dec. 9.

Respiratory-related deaths for flu and Covid-19 on the state’s weekly dashboard are reported according to when they occur, which sometimes leads to a delay between the actual date of death and the submission to the department.