RSV sending pediatric patients to Santa Clara County hospitals, as flu and COVID spread too

Respiratory viruses are sending a surge of kids to local hospitals in the Bay Area, and Santa Clara County public health officials sounded the alarm on Wednesday, asking residents to take extra precautions heading into holiday season with pediatric beds already filling up and flu activity off to an early start.

“This is the first year where we’re not only facing COVID, but also increased influenza activity, and unusually high levels of RSV,” said Dr. Sarah Rudman, Santa Clara County’s Deputy Public Health Officer.

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus infection, often presents as a common cold in adults and older children but can be extremely dangerous for infants and young children, especially medically vulnerable ones. CDPH reported the first RSV death of a child under the age of 5 earlier this week.

The department is echoing calls for residents to get vaccinated for influenza, boosted for COVID, and reminded everyone to wash their hands frequently, and stay home if they are feeling sick.

Pediatric hospitals around the country have been reporting increasingly limited capacity, as RSV comes back with a vengeance after years of COVID precautions limited the spread and lowered population immunity to the virus.

While pediatric hospitals in California are in better shape than some other states at the moment, in terms of capacity, public health officials are worried about the coming weeks and months.

“We really need your help,” said Dr. Vidya Mony, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, who also spoke at the news conference.

“In the past couple of weeks, both in our inpatient and our outpatient settings, we have seen an acute surge of patients,” she said. She said data on RSV right now is “almost linear,” as cases and admissions increasing rapidly.

Most of the recent hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses here have been related to RSV, she said, but her facility has also seen an uptick in pediatric COVID admissions in recent weeks on top of that.

And another layer is coming. “I have no doubt in the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be surging influenza as well,” Mony said, reiterating the importance of flu and COVID vaccination for preventing hospitalization as beds fill up.

Officials from the public health department also announced a new data dashboard to help residents track wastewater data on influenza. Collecting samples from sewage samples, called “wastewater-based epidemiology” has been used successfully to detect COVID surges over the past two years. When people are infected they shed the virus when they go to the bathroom, allowing scientists to detect increases in the amount of virus in the sewage, before those surges are reflected in case data.

“I’m here to tell you today that right now the wastewater are showing rising levels of flu in every part of our county, in every sewer-shed that we monitor,” Rudman said. The wastewater data shows flu activity in the county is higher that usual at this time of year, on the rise since early November.

A chart shows that wastewater detection on influenza in all swersheds in Santa Clara County are experiencing a surge in flu since early November.
Santa Clara County has released a new dashboard that allowed residents to more carefully monitor the spread of the flu, including through wastewater data. 

Rudman said the wastewater data “provides us an early warning system long before case rates start to go up or hospitals get inundated.” And that’s why they are asking for the public’s help to stop the spread of all three viruses by washing hands frequently, staying home when sick, and getting vaccinated. “Now is the time,” Rudman said, “it is not too late for these interventions to make a difference.”

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