Respiratory Virus Spikes In California As Twindemic Threat Looms –

LOS ANGELES, CA — After months of decline, coronavirus cases are plateauing across California right on the cusp of flu season. And while the prospect of a ‘twindemic’ is making headlines, it’s yet a third bug that’s been causing headaches up and down the Golden State since June.

By now you’ve had it or heard from friends who have: a brutal head cold spreading across California.

Many presume it’s the flu that laid them low, but influenza isn’t really spreading in California, according to the state health department’s weekly tabulations of confirmed cases. The culprit is most likely Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a seasonal bug that doesn’t usually hit until winter but exploded across the state in the heat of the summer.

Infants and seniors are most susceptible to severe bouts of RSV leading to hospitalization. There is currently no vaccine to prevent RSV or antiviral drug to treat it. Much like influenza, the spread of RSV was low last year, meaning most toddlers have had no exposure to it and don’t possess the antibodies to combat infection. Hospitals across the state have reported an increase in pediatric hospitalizations with RSV.

“RSV manifests similarly to COVID-19, so while parents might 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 differentiating symptoms. For example, we know that COVID-19 often presents with unique symptoms, such as loss of taste and smell, fatigue and muscle aches. This is not so 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’s rare, co-infection is a possibility.”

The virus’ head-start on cold and flu season and its seeming severity may be a result of the pandemic. It may also be a harbinger of a severe cold and flu season that could slam the Golden State over the winter. It’s too soon to tell. Over the last 18 months, the pandemic has repeatedly disrupted typical flu and cold season patterns.

Last year, as public health officials braced for the ‘twindemic’ of COVID-19 and flu hospitalizations, the flu season was the mildest in California’s recorded history. But not all the same factors that suppressed influenza last winter are likely to be at play this year since schools and businesses reopened.

In California, flu season is typically October through 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 influenza season was unusually mild, the department is planning for a more regular influenza pattern this year.

“This low flu activity was likely due to the widespread implementation of Covid-19 preventive measures like masks, physical distancing and staying home,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters. “Because of so little disease last year, population immunity is likely lower, putting us all at risk of increased disease this year.”

The state’s health department is urging Californians to get vaccinated for both flu and COVID-19. Appointments for both vaccines can be made through

California Department Of Public Health

The same phenomenon may be behind the severity and spread of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus known as RSV.

There has been a big head start on the traditional RSV season, said Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at University of California, San Francisco.

“That is a big concern,” added Rutherford.

“In the northern hemisphere it started in late May, and it may be peeking around now. These are pretty high levels, and this is after very little, if any, last winter,” said Rutherford.

“The more RSV circulating, the more cases there will be,”he added. “This is one of the benefits/problems caused by COVID. You basically have a year’s worth of kids who haven’t been exposed. We are now seeing this population a little bit older, 6-to 24 months-old, who are susceptible to being hospitalized.”

Parents of premature babies or infants with lung problems should be particularly careful while RSV is circulating at high rates because such babies are vulnerable to severe RSV infections.
At this point, it’s difficult to predict if the upcoming flu season will have the same trajectory as RSV, according to Rutherford.

“I’d say the southern hemisphere flu season was mild this year,” Rutherford said. That would usually portend a mild flu season in the northern hemisphere as well.

“However we are only one mutation away from a worldwide pandemic,” he added. “The flu is very touchy.”

As with RSV, the overall population didn’t have much influenza 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 sick. Just as these habits help slow the spread of the coronavirus, they can slow the spread of influenza and RSV.

Winter surges in the coronavirus, influenza and RSV remain a major concern for healthcare providers because they could combine to overwhelm hospitals.

“The same specialists who would care for Covid patients are among those who would be caring for flu patients as well,” Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association told the Washington Post. “We don’t want those individuals to be so overworked they cannot appropriately care for you, regardless of what brought you into the hospital.”