Nearly 10,000 COVID-19 deaths last month amid holiday spread

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A sign for flu and covid vaccinations is displayed at a pharmacy store in Palatine, Ill., Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. The flu season in the US is getting worse but it’s too soon to tell how much holiday gatherings contributed to a likely spike in illnesses. New government data posted Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 for the previous week – the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s – show 38 states with high or very high levels for respiratory illnesses with fever, cough and other symptoms. That’s up from 31 states the week before. (AP)

GENEVA, Jan 11, (AP): The head of the UN health agency said Wednesday holiday gatherings and the spread of the most prominent variant globally led to increased transmission of COVID-19 last month. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly 10,000 deaths were reported in December, while hospital admissions during the month jumped 42% in nearly 50 countries – mostly in Europe and the Americas – that shared such trend information.

“Although 10,000 deaths a month is far less than the peak of the pandemic, this level of preventable deaths is not acceptable,” the World Health Organization director-general told reporters from its headquarters in Geneva. He said it was “certain” that cases were on the rise in other places that haven’t been reporting, calling on governments to keep up surveillance and provide continued access to treatments and vaccines.

Pathogens
Tedros said the JN.1 variant was now the most prominent in the world. It is an omicron variant, so current vaccines should still provide some protection. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead at WHO for COVID-19, cited an increase in respiratory diseases across the globe due to the coronavirus but also flu, rhinovirus and pneumonia. “We expect those trends to continue into January through the winter months in the northern hemisphere,” she said, while noting increases in COVID-19 in the southern hemisphere – where it’s now summer. While bouts of coughs, sniffling, fever and fatigue in the winter are nothing new, Van Kerkhove said this year in particular, “we are seeing co-circulation of many different types of pathogens.”

WHO officials recommend that people get vaccinated when possible, wear masks, and make sure indoor areas are well-ventilated. “The vaccines may not stop you from being infected, but the vaccines are certainly reducing significantly your chance of being hospitalized or dying,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, head of emergencies at WHO. Meanwhile, the flu season in the US is getting worse but it’s too soon to tell how much holiday gatherings contributed to a likely spike in illnesses. New government data posted recently – the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s – show 38 states with high or very high levels for respiratory illnesses with fever, cough and other symptoms. That’s up from 31 states the week before. The measure likely includes people with COVID-19, RSV and other winter viruses, and not just flu. But flu seems to be increasing most dramatically, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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