LOS ANGELES, California – After months of decline, cases of coronavirus plateau over California are just at the peak of the flu season. And while the prospect of a ‘twindemic’ is making headlines, it’s yet another third mistake that has caused headaches up and down the Golden State since June.
Now you’ve had it or heard from friends who have: a brutal head cold is spreading across California.
Many suspect it was the flu that put them down, but the flu is not really spreading in California, according to the state Department of Health’s weekly inventory of confirmed cases. The culprit is most likely Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a seasonal bug that usually does not hit before winter but exploded over the state in the summer heat.
Infants and the elderly are most susceptible to severe seizures of RSV leading to hospitalization. There is currently no vaccine to prevent RSV or antiviral drug to treat it. Much like the flu, the spread of RSV was low last year, meaning most toddlers have not been exposed to it and do not have the antibodies to fight infection. Hospitals across the state have reported an increase in pediatric admissions with RSV.
“RSV manifests itself in the same way as COVID-19, so even though parents may think of COVID-19 first, it is important for them to know that RSV is also circulating now,” Dr. Priya Soni, Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said. “In addition to the common fever and cough symptoms, there are some distinct symptoms. For example, we know that COVID-19 often produces unique symptoms, such as loss of taste and smell, fatigue and muscle aches. It is not that common. With RSV. There is a reliable test for RSV, an antigen-based test as well as a PCR test.When parents bring their sick child to the pediatrician for care, they should consider an RSV and a COVID-19 test.Unfortunately, although it is rare, co-infection is an option. “
The virus’s lead to the cold and flu season and its apparent severity may be a result of the pandemic. It could also be a warning of a severe cold and flu season that could slam Golden State over the winter. It’s too early to tell. Over the past 18 months, the pandemic has repeatedly disrupted typical flu and cold patterns.
Last year, as public health officials prepared for the “twindemy” of COVID-19 and influenza hospital admissions, flu season was the mildest in California’s recorded history. But not all of the same factors that suppressed the flu last winter are likely to be at stake this year since schools and businesses reopened.
In California, the flu season is typically October to May, and flu activity usually begins to increase in late November or December, according to the California Department of Public Health. While the 2020/21 flu season was unusually mild, the department is planning a more regular flu pattern this year.
“This low influenza activity was probably due to the widespread implementation of Covid-19 preventative measures such as masks, physical distance and staying at home,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters. “Because of so little disease last year, the population’s immunity is likely to be lower, putting us all at risk for increased disease this year.”
The state Department of Health is urging Californians to get vaccinated for both the flu and COVID-19. Agreements for both vaccines can be made via https://myturn.ca.gov/.
The same phenomenon may be behind the severity and spread of Respiratory Syncytial Virus known as RSV.
There has been a big head start on the traditional RSV season, said Dr. George Rutherford, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco.
“It’s a big concern,” Rutherford added.
“In the northern hemisphere, it started in late May, and it might be looking around now. It’s pretty high levels, and it’s after very little, if any, last winter,” Rutherford said.
“The more RSV circulating, the more cases there will be,” he added. “This is one of the benefits / problems caused by COVID. You have pretty much a year of children who have not been exposed. We are now seeing this population a little older, 6-24 months old, who are susceptible to being hospitalized. “
Parents of premature babies or infants with lung problems should be especially careful while RSV circulates at high speeds because such babies are vulnerable to serious RSV infections.
At this point, it is difficult to predict whether the upcoming flu season will have the same trajectory as RSV, according to Rutherford.
“I would say the flu season in the southern hemisphere was mild this year,” Rutherford said. It would also normally herald a mild flu season in the northern hemisphere.
“But we are only a mutation away from a worldwide pandemic,” he added. “The flu is very sensitive.”
As with RSV, the total population did not have much flu exposure last year, so people would have built up less natural immunity to it.
But also thanks to the pandemic, people have made good hygiene more routine with thorough hand washing, wearing masks and staying home when they are sick. Just as these habits help slow down the spread of coronavirus, they can slow down the spread of flu and RSV.
Winter increases in coronavirus, influenza and RSV remain a major concern for healthcare providers because they can be combined to overwhelm hospitals.
“The same specialists who would take care of Covid patients are among those who would also take care of flu patients,” Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, told the Washington Post. “We do not want these people to be so overworked that they cannot take proper care of you no matter what brought you into the hospital.”