2 Children Under Age 5 Die From RSV As Severe Cold And Flu Season Slams CA

CALIFORNIA — A second child under age 5 has died from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in California, contributing to a debilitating flu season this year, state health officials confirmed Tuesday.

The second pediatric RSV death of the season occurred in Riverside County, according to the county health department. The child, aged less than 4, died after a short illness, according to health officials. The child’s death comes as some hospitals across the state are seeing twice as many patients with cold and flu symptoms than usual at this time of year. RSV hospital admissions in seniors are also passing 10 times higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rise in respiratory illnesses heading into the holiday gathering season has health officials concerned about pressure on hospital capacity.

“This tragic event serves as a clear reminder that respiratory viruses can be deadly, especially in very young children and infants,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California State Department of Health and the director of the California Department of Public Health. “We are entering a busy winter virus season – with RSV, flu and COVID-19 spreading – and are urging parents and guardians to vaccinate their children against flu and COVID-19 as soon as possible. It is also important to follow basic prevention tips such as washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask and staying home if you are sick to slow the spread of germs.”

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The California Department of Public Health declined to say where in the state the other death occurred, citing patient privacy.

The 2022-2023 flu and RSV season started earlier than usual this year, normally in December and peaking in February, according to the CDPH. Recent data collected by the state department shows a rapid increase in cases of RSV, flu and COVID-19, with cases expected to continue to rise as the season progresses.

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“RSV activity increased rapidly in October and is still high,” a CDPH spokesperson told Patch on Tuesday. “Influenza activity is occurring in California earlier this year and is also increasing. COVID-19 cases are on the rise and based on patterns over the past 2 years, it is likely that we can anticipate COVID-19 cases as winter approaches.”

Flu activity is currently highest in Southern California, according to the CDPH. California hospitals saw 3,224 positive cases for the week ending Nov. 12, which is 16.7 percent of all samples tested. It’s an increase from the previous week, when 16.5 percent of samples tested positive for the flu, according to the California Department of Public Health.

California Department of Health

There was an unusually high number of RSV cases at the start of the season, which in turn put pressure on the capacity of local hospitals. Officials warned that flu, RSV and COVID-19 circulating simultaneously in Marin County are beginning to strain the medical system.

Marin County emergency rooms are seeing twice as many people with viral respiratory symptoms than usual at this time of year, the department said.

Going into the holiday week, health officials in Marin expressed concern about the spread of all three viruses at family gatherings.

“During Thanksgiving and other holidays, our social networks expand, creating new opportunities for the spread of respiratory viruses,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer, said in a statement.

Last week, Berkely Unified School District warned parents that children may have to start wearing masks again due to a staggering increase in RSV and COVID-19 cases in the first two weeks of November.

“Keep in mind that cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection are also on the rise, and we are also in flu season,” said Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel. “As we continue to see an increase in cases and head into a fall/winter surge, we expect to strongly recommend indoor masking at all BUSD schools and facilities as it is an important COVID-19 risk mitigation measure. “

Dr. Christopher Vlasses of UC San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland told the Los Angeles Times that the hospital’s acute care unit was packed every day for a week in October with patients, mostly infants, waiting for beds.

Most people admitted for RSV are under 18 years of age. To date, there have been five RSV-encoded deaths in the 2022-2023 flu season, according to CDPH, not including the recent deaths of two children under the age of five.

At a children’s hospital in San Diego, nearly 200 children had tested positive for the disease, according to the Los Angeles Times, which is nearly double what would be seen during the peak winter period.

According to a report from CNN, there is also evidence that RSV is affecting older adults at a faster rate than is commonly seen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rate is lower for seniors compared to children, but about 10 times higher than in the year before the COVID-19 pandemic.

About six in 100,000 seniors are hospitalized with RSV, according to the CDC, and adults age 65 and older may experience the most serious effects.

Health officials are warning of a possible “tridemia” or “tripleemia” if the RSV spike coincides with seasonal spikes in flu and COVID-19. The three diseases have similar symptoms.

There are no vaccines against RSV like there are for both the flu and COVID-19, but a number of pharmaceutical companies are developing vaccines.

The state has issued new guidance to hospitals across California on how to address the “expected further increase” in winter virus hospitalizations. The guidance, in part, “enables health care facilities to rearrange the space as needed to accommodate peak patient needs.”

Los Angeles County Public Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis told the Board of Supervisors earlier this month that the county saw a higher-than-normal number of RSV cases for this time of year, along with a higher-than-normal percentage of pediatric emergency room patients testing positive for flu-like symptoms .

Davis said hospitals had not seen a major spike in the number of pediatric hospital beds filled because of RSV cases. However, he said the combination of RSV, flu and COVID, along with continued staff shortages, could overwhelm medical centers.

Health officials have repeatedly noted that the number of flu infections in Los Angeles County is also rising earlier than normal. It was unclear whether the early start of the flu season would lead to a spike in cases in the coming months. But they also note rising numbers of COVID-19 infections since the beginning of November.

The CDPH offered guidance for the remainder of the season and those planning to attend family gatherings for the Thanksgiving holiday:

  1. Getting vaccinated, boosted and treated is still the best defense against the flu and COVID-19.
  2. It is critical to stay home if you feel sick and avoid close contact with others, especially for illnesses such as the flu, RSV and COVID-19, which are known to lead to more serious illnesses.
  3. Wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of viruses, as masks significantly reduce the release of particles that transmit the diseases. Especially vulnerable people such as the elderly and young children who do not yet have immunity benefit from this method of limiting the spread of germs.
  4. Regular hand washing is an easy and effective way to prevent illness and the spread of germs.
  5. Coughing and sneezing into your elbow, arm or a disposable handkerchief also prevents disease from spreading.

Also see:

RSV Cases Rise in CA: 5 Things to Know About the ‘Tripledemic’ Threat

1,000 students absent from one school as flu spreads across SoCal

Health officials are concerned about the early spread of flu in NorCal


Bay City News and City News Service contributed reporting.


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