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California child dies from flu, RSV, health officials say

The state Department of Public Health reported Monday that the flu and RSV claimed the life of a California child under age 5 for the first time in the 2022-23 season.

To protect the privacy of the family, state officials said they would not be releasing any further information on the child.

“Our hearts go out to the family of this young child,” said Dr Tomás Aragón, director of the state public health department and the state health officer. “This tragic event serves as a stark reminder that respiratory viruses can be deadly, especially in very young children and infants.”

Aragón sent a letter Friday to all health facilities, notifying them that RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, was already “hitting levels similar to seasonal peaks in prior years.” Last year, cases of this virus peaked in December, but in three prior years, such high points did not come until January or February.

The health department recommended that all health care facilities, including inpatient and outpatient facilities without existing pediatric services, employ their short-term measures to expand capacity to ensure that pediatric patients can be evaluated and treated.

“We are entering a busy winter virus season – with RSV, flu and COVID-19 spreading – and urge parents and guardians to vaccinate their children as soon as possible against flu and COVID-19,” Aragón said. “It’s also important to follow basic prevention tips like frequent hand washing, wearing a mask, and staying home when sick to slow the spread of germs.”

In a statement sent to The Bee on Monday, Kaiser Permanente officials said: “We are seeing a rise in RSV in our Northern California hospitals but have capacity to treat patients.

Detection of influenza cases is up 14% at surveillance laboratories, state data show, and although these figures show virus activity remains low throughout Northern California, wastewater surveillance systems show flu activity is rising sharply in Sacramento.

COVID-19 data are more difficult to gauge now that many people are testing for the disease at home. Wastewater data show sharp increases in COVID activity in Sacramento from two weeks ago but declining activity in Davis.

Data show that people who are vaccinated are far less likely to die or to be hospitalized. During September 2022, state officials noted, unvaccinated people were 3.1 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people who were vaccinated with at least a primary series.

“We encourage everyone at the individual level to do what they can to protect themselves and others, including testing for COVID-19 when feeling ill and staying home and away from others when sick,” Kaiser offiicials said. “We urge people to receive their flu vaccines and their COVID-19 vaccinations or boosters, which continue to protect against severe illness and death. And we continue to recommend wearing masks and social distancing, especially during surges in indoor spaces among other people. These measures help protect the most vulnerable in our communities from COVID-19 disease.”

Vaccination is one crucial way to ensure that there are enough hospital beds to treat all patients who require urgent medical attention this fall and winter, public health officials said.

This story was originally published November 14, 2022 3:02 PM.

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.