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Thanksgiving could worsen already bad respiratory virus season

Health officials fear Thanksgiving could worsen already bad flu season
Health officials fear Thanksgiving could worsen already bad flu season 02:20

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Health officials fear Thanksgiving gatherings could cause a surge of respiratory viruses that are already circulating widely now. The flu is especially bad in many regions of the country, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Doctors say it's important to be up to date on vaccinations for COVID-19 and the flu, but a majority of Americans are not. If you're not feeling well, regardless of vaccine status, you're being recommended to stay home.

Just in time for Thanksgiving gatherings, respiratory illnesses are increasing, especially the flu.

"The best way to save lives this holiday season is to ensure all Americans, particularly seniors, get their updated COVID vaccine and their flu vaccine," said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's flu map shows influenza is now very high in New Jersey.

In Camden County, there were 884 new confirmed cases of influenza in the last two weeks. Over the same time last year, there were just 20. Data shows 67% of the new flu cases in Camden are pediatric.

"Definitely in this cough and cold season," Dr. Mahdee Sobhanie, an infectious diseases physician, said, "really staying vigilant about your own health and the health of others is going to be key."

Federal health officials announced a six-week sprint to get as many Americans as possible vaccinated with the updated COVID-19 boosters before the end of the year.

"If in fact you were vaccinated and boosted compared to an unvaccinated person," chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said, "there's a 14-times lower risk of dying in the most recent BA.4-5 era."

For keeping the holiday as safe as possible, doctors say testing for COVID-19 before you gather can also help protect those who are vulnerable and safety measures -- like masking and handwashing -- can still help too.

"If you are in an area that you can have good ventilation, open the windows, things like that, that's always beneficial," Sobhanie said.

According to a new report released Tuesday by the CDC, Americans who have gotten the updated COVID-19 boosters appear better protected against symptomatic infection than those who haven't. But only about 13% of U.S. adults have received the updated shot.

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