VIRAL INFECTIONS SKYROCKET, IMPACTING KIDS AND HOSPITALS
The flu virus took full advantage of family gatherings over the Thanks-giving holiday.
Over the week that ended Nov. 26, hospitalizations for flu nearly doubled, reports Richard Franki at Web-MD. The number of positive flu tests that week, more than 34,000 nation-wide, is the most ever reported, with records going back to 1997, reports Keren Landman at Vox — though that figure is in part explained by higher testing rates.
The CDC’s map of flu-like illness rates, normally a woodsy mix of green hues in autumns past, is now a patchwork of purple and red.
RSV and COVID are also going strong. Pandemic protection measures flattened both RSV and the flu in recent years, so the population lacks immunity, creating an ideal opportunity for them to come back strong.
Children in particular, and the pediatric hospital units that serve them, are suffering from the “tripledemic,” write Sallie Permar and Robert J. Vinci at STAT. Families are struggling to find children’s fever medicines, with drug store shelves nearly bare, reports Laurel Wamsley at NPR.
Most people do have some immunity to COVID this season. A recent preprint estimates that some 94% of the U.S. population has been infected by the virus at least once. That, plus vaccinations, should provide some measure of protection against the worst outcomes — but COVID hospitalizations still rose in Thanksgiving’s wake, reports Erin Prater at Fortune Well. The BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants currently circulating have a greater ability to escape prior immunity than previous variants, notes Michael DePeau-Wilson at MedPage Today.
New York City is experiencing a high rate of new COVID cases and COVID hospitalizations, report Corina Knoll and Sarah Cahalan at The New York Times, but it’s Los Angeles County — the nation’s most populous — that’s currently staring down the possibility of a new mask mandate.
LA County’s Department of Public Health has set two trigger points for the return of masking requirements. The first such trigger, 10 or more weekly hospital admissions for COVID per 100,000 residents, has already been met, report Luke Money and Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles Times. If the county hits the second mark — 10% or more of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients — it could prompt the return of a mask mandate in early January, said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
While LA County, and the CDC, have already encouraged people to mask up to avoid the stew of circulating respiratory viruses, public enthusiasm for a return to face coverings is decidedly low, report Cahalan and Knoll.
“Three years in, it is extraordinarily difficult to mandate,” said Dr. Sara Cody, public health director for Santa Clara County.
WOMEN, BLACK AND ASIAN PEOPLE LEFT OUT OF COVID TRIALS
Amid a collection of 122 COVID trials, researchers generally failed to recruit participants who mirrored the general population, according to a new JAMA Network study.
Women were underrepresented among the pool of more than 176,000 participants, as were Black and Asian people.
Better representation is important because doctors can’t be confident in treatments only tested on groups with skewed demographics.
In contrast, Latino and Hispanic people were overrepresented. That may reflect the preponderance of trials in states like Florida, Texas and California, which have large Hispanic and Latino populations, reports Annalee Armstrong at Fierce Biotech.
The Pew Research Center recently released a poll on attitudes towards clinical trial participation, and found that Black and Hispanic individuals were a little less likely to say such trials are important than white or Asian people. In focus groups, some people of color pointed to past mis-treatment of communities of color in medical research as reason to avoid being a “test case.”
OMICRON BOOSTER AUTHORIZED FOR KIDS AS YOUNG AS 6 MONTHS
The bivalent booster that targets the omicron variant has been authorized for children under 5, the FDA announced.
Eligibility depends on which shots kids got previously. Those who received two doses of Moderna’s original-formula vaccine can already get that company’s bivalent booster. Children who are midway through Pfizer’s three-dose regimen for that age group can receive a bivalent booster for their third shot.
But those who already completed Pfizer’s primary series will have to wait.
The FDA has not yet received data to support a fourth, bivalent shot for those children, but expects to have the data in hand by January, reports Spencer Kimball at CNBC.