Onset of Spring Bringing Decline in Respiratory Viruses in Georgia

Dave Williams

Thursday, March 14th, 2024

Capitol Beat is a nonprofit news service operated by the Georgia Press Educational Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Georgia. For more information visit capitol-beat.org.

Cases of COVID-19, RSV, and influenza have declined significantly as winter moves into spring, State Epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek reported Tuesday.

On the fourth anniversary of the first reported death from coronavirus in Georgia, Drenzek told members of the state Board of Public Health the vast majority of patients hospitalized with the virus had not been vaccinated.

“There are still deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID,” she said. “But they’re drastically lower than they have been.”

In fact, cases of COVID-19 have fallen so much that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations early this month aligning strategies for preventing COVID-19 with those for RSV and the flu.

Those testing positive for COVID-19 no longer need to isolate themselves for five days, Drenzek said. Instead, those patients are advised to wait until their fever has gone away for at least 24 hours and/or until the symptoms improve before venturing outside, she said.

The CDC also has recommended that those who have been vaccinated with the most recent COVID booster get a second dose.

Drenzek said cases of flu are down significantly in Georgia after peaking in January.

“About 5% of outpatient visits are due to influenza-like illness,” she said.

Flu season this winter has been similar to the 2019-20 flu season, when the virus peaked in January and peaked again during the spring, Drenzek said.

“Whether we have another spring flu peak remains to be seen,” she said.

Drenzek said the highest number of outpatient visits by flu patients are occurring in school-age young people ranging from the ages of 5 to 24.

“School settings and university settings are high-risk areas for flu and other respiratory viruses as well,” she said.

RSV cases in Georgia have fallen to the point of being “virtually minimal,” Drenzek said. She said RSV season started early, peaking last October before falling off.

Almost all hospitalizations for RSV have occurred among infants less than a year of age, she said.

Meanwhile, two cases of measles cropped up in Georgia in January for the first time since one case was reported in 2020. The Peach State saw 18 cases in 2019 of a disease the CDC declared in 2000 had been eliminated in the United States.

Both of this year’s cases of measles occurred in a pair of siblings from metro Atlanta who had traveled internationally, Drenzek said.

“Our containment efforts were successful,” she said.