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California Reports First Death Of A Child This Season From Flu And RSV

Fluorescent green blotches of various sizes and transparency displayed against a black background represent tissue samples that reveal the presence of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
A photomicrograph revealing the presence of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in an unidentified tissue sample. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia among infants and children under 1 year of age.
(CDC/Dr. Craig Lyerla
Courtesy Centers of Disease Control and Prevention)
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The California Department of Public Health confirmed the death of a child under the age of 5 caused by flu and RSV on Monday. No other information about the child was released, including when or where they died.

“Our hearts go out to the family of this young child,” said State Public Health Officer and CDPH Director Dr. Tomás Aragón. “This tragic event serves as a stark reminder that respiratory viruses can be deadly, especially in very young children and infants.”

Aragón said we are entering a busy winter virus season — with RSV, flu and COVID-19 spreading — and urged parents and guardians to vaccinate their children as soon as possible against flu and COVID-19.

The health officer 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 viruses.

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Surge Of Seasonal Viruses Expected To Continue

The seasonal viruses are filling pediatric hospitals across the country. In previous years, hospitals could temporarily expand pediatric intensive care units when they reached capacity. But staffing shortages, exacerbated over two and a half years by the stress and burnout of COVID, have hampered their ability to make more beds available.

Guidance sent to hospital administrators from CDPH instructed administrators to prepare to expand pediatric patient intake and gave temporary permission for hospitals to reconfigure beds and spaces as needed, a sign that health officials expect the surge of sick children to continue.

Orange County health officials declared a public health emergency at the beginning of November and ask caregivers to get children vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19, and keep them home from school or daycare if they are sick.

Los Angeles County has more pediatric hospital capacity than Orange County, “so we’re better off,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said at a press conference last Thursday.

“It's important to note that many hospitals have only a small number of pediatric beds, meaning that as few as nine or ten new hospitalizations can have the potential to put a hospital at capacity for their pediatric patients,” Ferrer said.

What Is RSV?

RSV is a seasonal virus that for most people causes something like a cold. But it can become more serious, even life-threatening, especially for babies and other young children and older people.

Babies younger than 6 months old have the highest rates of hospitalization for RSV compared to any other age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As kids get older, hospitalization rates fall.

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There is no vaccine for RSV (though some are in development.) Young children are the least vaccinated age group against COVID. Less than 6% of children under 5 have received the vaccine in California.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.