Ahead of the holidays, there was fear in certain medical circles that holiday gatherings among millions and millions of families across America would spark a dangerous surge in respiratory diseases.
Now, new U.S. government data suggests that was not the case.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that visits to doctors’ offices for flu-like illnesses fell for the sixth straight week.
“Seasonal influenza activity continues but is declining in most areas,” the CDC wrote on its website.
The CDC also said that reports of RSV, a common cause of cold-like symptoms that can be serious for infants and the elderly, are also down.
In the fall, when flu and RSV cases surged and caused overloads at pediatric emergency rooms, some doctors feared winter might bring a so-called tripledemic of flu, RSV and COVID-19.
They were concerned that holiday gatherings might be the spark. But it apparently did not occur.
“Right now, everything continues to decline,” said the CDC’s Lynnette Brammer.
She leads the government agency’s tracking of flu in the United States, according to the Associated Press.
RSV hospitalizations have been going down since November — and flu hospitalizations are down, too.
That doesn’t mean some people haven’t gotten sick.
Plenty of families reported that at least one or more of their members came down with something over the holidays after group get-togethers.
The situation is uneven across the country, the Associated Press reported — with some areas seeing more illnesses than others.
But some doctors say patient traffic is easing.
“It has really eased up, considerably,” Dr. Ethan Wiener, a pediatric ER doctor at the Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone in New York City, told the AP.
Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious disease physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri, also told the outlet that “it has slowed down, tremendously.”
Newland said he wasn’t surprised that flu and RSV continued to trend down in recent weeks — but added, “The question is what was COVID going to do?”
COVID-19 hospitalizations rose through December, including during the week after Christmas, the CDC said.
One set of CDC data appears to show they started trending down after New Year’s, although an agency spokeswoman noted that another count indicates an uptick as of last week.
Because of reporting lags, it may be a few weeks until CDC can be sure COVID-19 hospitalizations have really started dropping, Newland told the AP.
He also said there was an increase in COVID-19 traffic at St. Louis Children’s in December.
But he noted the situation was nothing like it was a year ago, when the then-new omicron variant was causing the largest national surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began.
“That was the worst,” he said.
This past week, Dr. Marc Siegel, a Fox News medical contributor, told Fox News Digital that the relatively new COVID-19 omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 “is the most easily transmissible subvariant so far.”
He said that “it not only binds well to cells, but it is also the most immunoevasive.” Siegel is a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
The subvariant — nicknamed “Kraken” by some — is spreading across the globe, too.
Maria Van Kerkhove, Ph.D, technical lead of the World Health Organization, said XBB.1.5 is “the most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet,” WebMD reported.
Though this subvariant continues to spread at a faster pace than other versions of COVID-19 did, the CDC recently revised downward its estimate of how much XBB.1.5 is circulating in the U.S.
The fall RSV and flu surge was felt most acutely at health care centers for children.
Wiener said the pediatric emergency department traffic at Hassenfeld was 50% above normal levels in October, November and December — “the highest volumes ever” for that time of year, he said, according to the AP.
The RSV and flu surges likely faded because so many members of the vulnerable population were infected “and it just kind of burnt itself out,” he said.
It makes sense that respiratory infections could rebound amid holiday travel and gatherings — and it’s not exactly clear why that didn’t happen, Brammer said.
With all that said, flu season isn’t over, the AP pointed out.
Thirty-six states are still reporting high or very high levels of flu activity, it noted.
It’s always possible that a second wave of illnesses remains up ahead, experts said.
The CDC continues to recommend that everyone “six months and older” get the flu vaccine.
“An annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against flu. Vaccination helps prevent infection and can also prevent serious outcomes in people who get vaccinated but still get sick with flu,” the CDC says on its website.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.