US COVID markers rise as flu activity intensifies

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Respiratory illness activity markers rose across the nation last week, with the Midwest and Northeast seeing the biggest COVID impacts and the South experiencing the highest flu activity, according to updates today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In its respiratory virus snapshot, the group said the data cover the week ending December 23 but should be interpreted with caution due to possible reporting delays during the holidays. With both COVID and flu on the rise, the CDC also said respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) illness levels, along with hospitalizations, remain elevated across most of the country, though activity is declining in some areas.

Midwest, Northeast remain COVID hot spots

The CDC's severity markers show more rises, with hospitalizations up 16.7% and deaths up 10% compared to the previous week. About 29,000 people were admitted to the hospital for COVID in the week leading up to Christmas, with several counties in the Midwest and Northeast in the moderate range, with some in the two areas listed as high.

COVID was responsible for 3.3% of all deaths last week, with higher levels reported in the Midwest and parts of the Northeast.

Early indicators also continue to rise, with emergency department (ED) visits up 12% from a week ago. Test positivity at the national level rose from 0.7% to 12.7% and, like other metrics, is higher in the Midwest and Northeast.

Wastewater tracking from Biobot also shows the highest virus levels in the Midwest and Northeast and reflects that nationally, the level is approaching the level seen this time last year. The CDC's wastewater COVID tracking dashboard puts the national level at very high, with the highest levels in the Midwest.

Flu markers intensify, especially across the South

Meanwhile, in its latest weekly FluView update, the CDC reported another steady rise in illness indicators, with most of the Southeast now at the highest level of flulike illness activity. New Mexico is also experiencing flu activity at the highest level.

Test positivity for flu at clinical labs is above 20% for four regions, areas that roughly span the Mountain West, the South Central, the Southeast, and the Middle Atlantic.

Outpatient visits for flulike illness rose to 6.1%, up from 5.1% the previous week. The level has been above the national baseline for 8 consecutive weeks, and all 10 regions are above their regional baselines. Levels are highest in children as old as 4 years old, followed by young people ages 5 to 24.

Flu hospitalizations continue to rise, and one of the CDC's hospital surveillance systems showed that about 14,700 people were admitted to the hospital for flu last week. Levels were highest in seniors, followed by adults ages 50 to 64 and children as old as 4.

Seven more pediatric flu deaths for flu were reported, six of them for the current flu season, raising the total to 20. The current-season deaths all occurred in December. Four were linked to influenza A, and of subtyped viruses, both were 2009 H1N1, which continues to be the nation's dominant strain.

Across all age-groups, flu made up 0.5% of all the nation's deaths last week, up from 0.3% the previous week.

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