The outlook for respiratory viruses in Georgia is encouraging

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

This forecast from the state epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek arrived during a meeting of the Georgia Board of Public Health on Tuesday.

While these trends represent good news, Drenzek said they should not give Georgians a false sense of security. The threat of COVID, RSV and flu combined is greater than the sum of their parts, she said.

“Because our spread of RSV and influenza is relatively moderate, when you add COVID to the mix, it can really increase the overall activity of respiratory viruses.”

Still, Drenzek said the number of deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID is the lowest it has been since the pandemic began in early 2020, due to both the availability of vaccines and the widespread immunity Georgians have acquired during the pandemic years .

“The wild card is that the circulating variants are changing rapidly and may ultimately lead to high transmission rates and rising cases,” she said.

Drenzek said the good news is that no increase in COVID cases has been reported, while booster shots that became available in September are expected to be effective against the variants currently circulating. People over 65 remain most vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID, including death, she said.

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

The number of positive RSV tests rose to 21% in Georgia a few weeks ago, but has since fallen to just 10%, Drenzek said. Most patients hospitalized with RSV were infants up to 6 months old, while hospitalizations of infants ages 6 to 12 months are also increasing, she said.

“We want to target youth against RSV and flu,” she said.