Why is the flu season so bad this year?

Why is the flu season so bad this year?

If it seems like everyone around you is getting sick, you’re not imagining it. Flu season is hitting the United States unusually early and much harder than usual.

“I’m scared of what’s going to happen this flu season because I don’t think we’ve ever seen a coalition of multiple viruses manifesting like this before,” said Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne, doctor of emergency medicine and associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The Clayborne family

Carlos Waters | CNBC

Covid precautions have led to lower rates of flu-like illnesses compared to normal pre-pandemic times. But now that much of America has abandoned preventive measures like masking up, more people are suffering from seasonal illnesses.

“All the patterns of mixing and transmission of different viruses really slowed down after that shutdown,” said Dr. Andrea Berry, associate professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “As the world has opened up, the usual patterns are not quite the same.”

One of those flu-like illnesses is respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which is most severe in young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.

There were more reported cases of RSV each week in October this year than any other week in the past two years, and doctors across the country are raising the alarm about hospitals are overwhelmed this season.

Just like RSV, flu cases began to rise earlier this year, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting at least 1,600,000 cases, 13,000 hospitalizations and 730 deaths as of Oct. 29, which is high for this early in a typical flu season.

Clayborne’s two- and four-year-old children came down with RSV in late September, and her older daughter had to be taken to the emergency room for treatment.

The Clayborne family

Carlos Waters | CNBC

“I know that [the flu and RSV are] common and a lot of kids seem to get them,” Clayborne said. “But we see kids die all the time, and it’s usually from respiratory complications.”

There is currently no federally approved vaccine to treat RSV, but Pfizer reported in early November that its phase 3 trial RSV vaccine candidate, given to mothers during pregnancy, was nearly 70% effective in protecting against severe symptoms in infants younger than 6 months.

Look video above to learn more about why this flu season is starting to spike and what we can do about it.

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