CDC director says U.S. faces respiratory disease threat as hospitalizations rise

(CNN) — Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported to a congressional subcommittee on Thursday on cases of respiratory illnesses in the United States caused by three viruses: influenza, coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“RSV season is in full swing,” Cohen told the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

“Flu season has just begun in much of the country, and although the season is accelerating rapidly, and although we are seeing relatively low numbers of COVID-19 infections, COVID-19 remains the leading cause of new hospitalizations and respiratory deaths, at approximately 15,000 Hospitalizations and about 1,000 deaths every week,” he said.

“We’re seeing a lot of RSV cases, especially in the southern part of the country, so I would say we’re close to the peak of RSV,” Cohen said.

“We’re also at the beginning of flu season,” he added. “We are experiencing a very typical flu season. We expect to see more flu cases during December and January.”

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 30: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Mandy Cohen testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing titled

CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on November 30, 2023. (Photo credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images)

He said COVID-19 is also on the rise again and remains the greatest of the three threats.

“COVID-19 continues to be the respiratory virus that causes the most hospitalizations and claims the most lives,” he said.

Cohen added that it is still important for Americans to get vaccinated because vaccines are now available for the three respiratory illnesses. If a person becomes sick, they must also get tested and treated because most antiviral drugs are most effective when taken early in an infection.

More than one-third of adults and children in the United States have received a flu shot this year, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But only 16% of adults and 6% of children have received the new Covid-19 vaccine, a rate the CDC said was lower than they expected. About 15% of adults over 60 years old have received the new RSV vaccine.

Respiratory virus activity is particularly high in the southern and western United States. Warren County, Ohio, said this week that the state is experiencing an “outbreak” of pediatric pneumonia cases, with a significant increase in the number of cases at a given time. The pathogens involved include adenovirus, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae, bacteria linked to an increasing number of respiratory infections in China. Mycoplasma typically causes mild respiratory infections, often in busy settings such as schools, college dormitories, and long-term care facilities.

Respiratory virus season affects children particularly hard. In the week ending November 18, more than 10% of doctor visits among children under 5 in the United States were due to influenza-like illness, about three times the average for all ages and well above the national reference. CDC data.

Beds at Children’s Hospital are also full. About three-quarters of the nation’s pediatric hospital beds are in use, and bed capacity hasn’t been this tight since mid-December 2022, federal data shows.

Hospitalizations for respiratory viruses, including Covid-19, influenza and RSV, have been increasing for months. While Covid-19 accounts for the vast majority of hospitalizations for respiratory viruses, RSV is the most common culprit among children, with weekly admissions rising by 69% since the first week of October.

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