The United States is facing a triple threat this holiday season with a combination of viral infections due to influenza, Covid-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Influenza is already the highest it has been for more than a decade and health officials are seeing a heavy surge of hospitalizations. More than 2,306 people have been hospitalized - twice the number of flu hospitalizations than the last two winters.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is urging people to protect themselves.
Last week, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield held a press conference to brief members of the media.
Malcolm said she understands that many people are "fatigued" with all of the health precautions but risks still remain and the public should remain "vigilant."
“So much of what happens in the next few months is up to us,” said Malcolm.
Dr. Lynfield said Minnesota hospitals are battling high flu activity. This year, health officials have seen 900 flu outbreaks in schools and 40 outbreaks in nursing homes.
The state health department says 33% of Minnesotans have gotten flu shots this year.
According to the CDC, flu vaccines are down 12% for pregnant women -- compared to this time last year. They've dropped 3% for seniors and 5% for kids compared to before the pandemic.
New coronavirus infections are on the rise across the country as well.
Dr. Lynfield says that less than 20% of Minnesotans were up to date with their Covid vaccine. Over the course of three years, Covid-19 has hospitalized more than 77,000 people and approximately 13,773 Minnesotans have died.
Dr. Lynfield said officials are also seeing more RSV hospitalizations than they have seen in years.
According to the Mayo Clinic RSV causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. It's so common that most children have been infected with the virus by age 2. RSV can also infect adults. In adults and older, healthy children, RSV symptoms are mild and typically mimic the common cold. Self-care measures are usually all that's needed to relieve any discomfort.
Symptoms for RSV include congested or runny nose, dry cough, low-grade fever, sore throat, sneezing and headaches.
RSV can cause severe infection in some people, including babies 12 months and younger (infants), especially premature infants, older adults, people with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a weak immune system (immunocompromised).
Currently, there are no vaccinations for RSV but some are in development.
Because RSV and Covid-19 are both types of respiratory viruses, some symptoms can be similar. In children, Covid-19 often results in mild symptoms such as fever, runny nose and cough. For adults, symptoms may be more severe and may include trouble breathing.
Having RSV may lower immunity and increase the risk of getting Covid-19 for kids and adults. Infections may occur together, which can worsen the severity of Covid-19 illness.
And all of this is happening as the holiday season begins. More people are traveling, gathering indoors and likely with fewer precautions than in the previous two years.
Malcolm, Linfield and healthcare workers are urging people to keep following the health precautions that began during the pandemic including tips like wearing masks in crowded indoor areas, not going into work if you're sick, washing your hands throughout the day and staying up to date with your vaccinations.
Healthcare workers are encouraging people to take proper precautions if they start feeling symptoms of the flu like body aches, fevers, sore throat or a cough.
The federal government announced last week that every home in Minnesota is eligible to order four rapid at-home COVID-19 tests for free, while supplies last. Even if you have ordered tests before, you can order again.
For help ordering at-home tests call the MDH COVID-19 Public hotline 1-833-431-2053 Monday - Friday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday’s from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or visit covid.gov
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