RSV, flu cases start to climb ahead of holidays

More and more people are starting to come down with respiratory illnesses, and that number will likely continue to grow with holiday gatherings nearing.

The latest weekly report from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) was released Thursday, showing a jump in hospitalizations due to influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The good news is that overall hospitalization rates are still low and vaccines are available for those who want them, but upcoming holiday gatherings could also further increase the spread of illnesses.

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MDH’s report for last week shows that the percentage of lab tests positive for flu and RSV jumped to 2.5% from 1.6% the week prior. Influenza A has been the predominant strain of the flu so far.

Additionally, 30 people were hospitalized last week with flu-like illnesses after 19 people were hospitalized the week before. MDH reports a total of 64 flu hospitalizations so far this season, with older Minnesotans accounting for the largest share of hospitalizations.

Last week also saw the first two long-term care outbreaks of the season — with an outbreak qualifying as at least two cases of flu or RSV within 72 hours of each other in the same unit — and two more school outbreaks were reported. MDH considers at least 10% of a school’s total enrollment absent due to a respiratory illness as an outbreak, and there have now been seven such instances this season.

At this point, RSV cases seem to be outpacing the flu, with children 4 and under most impacted by the virus. As of last week, the rate of RSV hospitalization was around 10.5 per 100,000 kids ages 4 and under, a significant jump since a week ago. It remains much lower for older age groups.

The picture is very similar in Wisconsin, where the state’s Department of Health Services (DHS) reported increases in flu, RSV and COVID-19 cases over the past week, especially young children impacted by RSV.

“Respiratory illnesses increase during the colder months as we spend more time indoors,” DHS Respiratory Disease Epidemiologist Tom Haupt said. “Our current data show that we are starting to see a rapid increase of RSV, alongside increases in both influenza and COVID-19. This is a sign to all of us that now is the time to get vaccinated to get the best protection ahead of holiday activities and gatherings, and to take additional steps to prevent the spread of illness including staying home from work, school, and other gatherings if you are sick.”

Seasonal flu and COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older while health officials say pregnant people, parents of children under 19 months, and adults over 60 should talk to their doctor about RSV vaccines and preventive treatments.

DHS says only around 20% of Wisconsinites have gotten a flu shot this season and around 7% have gotten an updated COVID-19 vaccine.

The Minnesota Immunization Information Connection says 1,478,148 Minnesotans have received a flu vaccine this season, which is around 26% of the state’s population, and 134,459 people 60 and older have received an RSV vaccine.