Respiratory Virus Outlook in Georgia Encouraging

Dave Williams

Wednesday, November 15th, 2023

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Cases of COVID-19 are declining headed into the respiratory virus season, while cases of RSV and flu are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels.

That forecast from State Epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek came Tuesday during a meeting of the Georgia Board of Public Health.

While those trends represent good news, Drenzek said they shouldn’t give Georgians a false sense of security. The threat posed by COVID, RSV, and flu together is greater than the sum of their parts, she said.

“Because we have circulation of RSV and flu at relatively moderate levels, when you put COVID on top of it, it really can push up the overall activity for respiratory viruses.”

Still, Drenzek said deaths and hospitalizations from COVID are as low as they’ve been since the pandemic began in early 2020, due both to the availability of vaccines and the widespread immunity Georgians have acquired during the pandemic years.

“The wild card is that the circulating variants can change rapidly and ultimately result in high levels of transmissions and surging cases,” she said.

Drenzek said the good news is no surges in COVID cases have been reported, while the boosters that became available in September should be effective against the variants currently circulating. People over the age of 65 remain the most vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID, including death, she said.

Drenzek said cases of flu in Georgia are starting to rise but only account for 4% of outpatient doctor visits. Children from birth to age 4 are by far the group most affected, she said.

Positive tests for RSV spiked at 21% a few weeks ago in Georgia but have dropped since to only 10%, Drenzek said. Most of those hospitalized with RSV have been infants up to 6 months of age, while hospitalizations of young children from 6 to 12 months also are rising, she said.

“We want to target youngsters for RSV and flu,” she said.