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Respiratory illness on the rise as new year approaches

(NewsNation) — Four respiratory illnesses are on the rise as the last leg of holiday travel is underway before the new year.

The CDC warned last week of a recent increase in pediatric invasive group A streptococcal (iGAS) infections. Known as strep A, it has already caused two child deaths in the United States, and has been linked to at least 21 pediatric fatalities in the United Kingdom.

“Very rarely, it can move into the bloodstream and it can cause what’s called, ‘toxic shock’, where there is a toxin released from the group A strep that can make us really sick,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco.

Strep isn’t the only looming respiratory illness. Earlier this month, the CDC had a grim message about the surge of RSV, the flu and COVID-19.

“Nationally, we are seeing elevated levels of respiratory viruses including RSV, flu, and COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a Dec. 5 briefing. “Especially for RSV and flu, these levels are higher than we generally see this time of year.”

At the time of that briefing, the CDC estimated that since Oct. 1, there had already been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from the flu alone.

With harsh winter conditions affecting much of the US and likely fueling some respiratory unrest, the CDC recommends making sure your vaccinations are up to date.

“COVID-19 bivalent vaccines and flu vaccines are safe, they’re effective and they can lower the risk of infection in general, and especially lower the risk of severe illness and death,” said Walensky. “Mostly updated COVID-19 vaccines and this year’s flu vaccines were formulated to protect against the viruses that are currently circulating right now.”

Health experts also recommend masking up, keeping hands clean and paying attention to signs that you may be getting ill.