Chelsea Berg, a nurse at Peninsula Community Health Services, administers a flu shot during a free drive-thru flu shot event at Kenai Central High School on Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)

Chelsea Berg, a nurse at Peninsula Community Health Services, administers a flu shot during a free drive-thru flu shot event at Kenai Central High School on Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)

Flu and RSV reaching peaks in Alaska, officials report

Cases of influenza in the state have been reported in much greater quantities much earlier in the season than recent years

Outbreaks of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus appear to be reaching peaks in Alaska and nationwide, State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said during a public health ECHO held via Zoom and livestreamed to Facebook on Wednesday.

During the ECHO McLaughlin gave an update on influenza and RSV cases in the state and nation.

For the flu, he said that most states have begun to see a downward trend in the number of cases, after eight weeks of increasing numbers. In Alaska, a sharp week-over-week increase in cases has been seen since the end of October, though McLaughlin said that this week for the first time that increase seems to have leveled off.

“It’ll be interesting to see this week if that leveling off continues or if we get another increase or a decrease,” McLaughlin said.

Cases of influenza in the state have been reported in much greater quantities much earlier in the season than recent years. In the last three years, the peaks in cases came in January or February, and never reached the number of cases seen this year.

For RSV, McLaughlin said that nationwide, cases have clearly peaked and are declining. Alaska falls slightly behind that trend, but has reached a peak and a decline is on the horizon.

Though peak case numbers may have passed for both RSV and influenza, McLaughlin said that Alaska is still experiencing very high levels of activity for both viruses.

McLaughlin and Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz continued to stress the importance of vaccination in the face of the influenza and RSV outbreaks, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

For COVID, McLaughlin said that while cases and deaths are remaining low, hospitalizations have been trending upward. This week, 40 hospitalizations were reported, down from 42 last week, but they have been generally trending upward since Oct. 26, when 19 were reported. Weekly reported COVID cases have held between 300 and 450 since Oct. 12.

“The majority of people who are getting hospitalized are unvaccinated,” he said.

“We’re still in the midst of our respiratory viruses this winter, and we know that getting your annual flu vaccine and bivalent COVID booster reduces the risk of becoming very sick this winter,” Rabinowitz said.

More information about vaccines and availability for both influenza and COVID-19 can be found at vaccines.gov.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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