California is now reporting very high flu levels, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as respiratory illnesses continue to rise nationwide.
The CDC uses five aggregate levels, from minimal to very high, to measure influenza-like illnesses in the United States and its territories. On Friday, the agency’s color-coded map showed California and 10 other states, as well as New York City, shaded purple, the worst of three shades of the very high flu level.
Since early October, CDC officials estimate, there have been 78,000 flu hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths nationwide.
The California Department of Public Health classifies all of Southern California as having high levels of the flu, while Central and Northern California are rated moderate. The flu is the reason for nearly 4% of hospitalizations each week at Kaiser facilities in Northern California, the highest rate in any of the previous four flu seasons.
In Los Angeles County, cases of influenza and COVID-19 are increasing, and RSV – or respiratory syncytial virus – also remains at a high level.
“This triple threat … has a lot of potential to cause significant circulating disease and strain our healthcare system – both in terms of the number of beds available and the number of healthcare workers affected by the disease, which reduces the hospital’s ability to care for patients,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a recent briefing.
The flu positivity rate in LA County has reached 25%, a level not seen at this time of year in the past four years. “Obviously we’re… off the charts,” Ferrer said.
“We are already seeing many people hospitalized with flu-related illnesses and complications. So please we urge people not to just think of this as “just the flu”. It’s not too late to get your seasonal flu shot,” she added.
California has recorded at least 36 flu-related deaths since early October, based on death certificate data. This figure is likely an undercount.
The RSV positivity rate also remains high – around 15%, higher than in any of the previous four cold and flu years, which run from October to September.
There are indications that RSV activity may have peaked in LA County in early November and is beginning to decline. By the end of October, the positivity rate was over 20%, according to county data. But it’s possible the 15% rate was simply the result of more people being tested for the virus, Ferrer said.
“The current positivity percentage, although it has dropped, still exceeds the highest positivity percentage values seen in our past five seasons,” Ferrer said. “So still an alarming number of people testing positive for RSV.”
At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the RSV positivity rate is 23%. This has dropped considerably since November 1, when the rate was 38%. But the latest figure is still quite high and is about the same as when it peaked all of last winter, which was 24%. CHLA’s emergency room is so busy that it cannot always accommodate patient transfers from other hospitals.
The influenza positivity rate at CHLA is 19%; before Thanksgiving, it was 12%.
The RSV situation in Orange County remains the same as the previous week, according to its health care agency, where officials declared a public health emergency over RSV and other viral illnesses stressing children’s hospitals. .
The rise in coronavirus-positive hospitalizations is exacerbating the RSV situation, as an increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients means there are fewer hospital beds available, the agency said.
At Kaiser’s Northern California hospitals, about 2.2% of hospital admissions are RSV-related, up from 2.3% last week, according to the most recent data available. These rates are higher than in the previous five cold and flu seasons.
There have been at least 14 RSV-related deaths, according to California death certificate data, since the beginning of October. The figure is likely an undercount.
“Given the high levels of RSV activity, caution is warranted,” Ferrer said. “RSV often affects young children more severely and causes bronchiolitis [inflammation of the airways] and pneumonia. It is important to take precautions to prevent respiratory illnesses. This includes washing your hands often, and for RSV in particular, wiping down frequently touched surfaces.
Along with wearing a mask, health experts say one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of catching the flu or other viral illnesses is to avoid touching your face.
The CDC notes that people can become infected with influenza and RSV by touching contaminated surfaces, where some viruses can survive for days, and then their face.
“The only point I want to emphasize again is … to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth,” Dr. Ralph Gonzales, associate dean of UC San Francisco, said at a recent town hall. from campus. “Really good studies have shown that if we can work harder to be vigilant about this, it will increase our chances of staying flu-free.”
Yet this simple advice may be easier said than done. Touching your face can be a spontaneous or even unconscious act that some research shows can help us deal with anxiety and discomfort, or be linked to negative or unfulfilling feelings.
And this is something that happens often. A 2015 study showed that medical students in class touched their faces 23 times per hour on average.
Here are some tips to practice avoiding touching your face.
- Pay attention when you touch your face and surprise yourself when – and preferably before – you do.
- If you catch yourself before touching your face, consider crossing your hands or doing something else with them.
- Do you have an itch? Try to ignore it. If it bothers you, wash your hands, then scrape it off, then wash your hands again. Or buy sterile wooden tongue depressors to use as an itch scraper.
Regular hand washing is also an important step to help thwart viral spread, officials say. When soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer can be used as a substitute.