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Sickness Looms The State

Illness Swinging Hard Punches


Last updated 2/15/2024 at 11:22am

Have you or people you know been sick lately? It seems respiratory illness season is in full swing and hitting California hard, as well as everywhere around the country and it is no surprise with the amount of gatherings due to the holidays.

According to data from San Diego County, the number of hospitalizations related to respiratory viruses jumped from nearly 120 in November to more than 160 in December of this year. They’re expecting COVID-19 and influenza numbers to rise in the coming weeks.

Respiratory illnesses like RSV, Influenza and COVID-19 increase during the winter months. In addition, vaccination numbers this winter have been much slower than the previous year. RSV can cause severe illness and death in babies and those who are older in age.

In Los Angeles County, about 23% of people participating in a weekly text-message-based survey reported having a cough or shortness of breath for the week that ended Dec. 10, higher than the total reported during a late summer peak in respiratory illnesses, when 21% said they had those symptoms. Meanwhile, coronavirus levels in wastewater in L.A. County are at their highest since summer.

Statewide, the level of flu-like illness – which includes non-flu viruses such as the coronavirus – is considered high, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the chorus of coughs, the trend in terms of levels of virus in sewage and hospitalizations is milder than last year at this time.

Flu cases also continue to rise in California. According to the state Department of Public Health, there were 1,007 new flu hospital admissions for the week that ended Dec. 9, up 20% over the prior week.

The latest flu hospitalization level is about one-third the peak of last winter’s.

Nationally, COVID-19 remains the primary cause of new respiratory hospitalizations and deaths, resulting in about 1,000 fatalities a week.

With COVID-19, “it’s continuing to go up, but it’s not as dramatic as, certainly, even two winters ago or even last winter, yet. So time will tell if the numbers that we see continue to go up,” said Dr. Nancy Gin, regional medical director of quality and clinical analysis for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “It’s not causing intensive care units to be full of COVID-related illness, which is good.”

The CDC reports the number of Californians admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 is on the rise, again. But so far, that does not appear to be true in San Diego County.

As of December 16, the most recent date CDC hospitalization data is available, COVID-19 hospitalizations across the U.S. went up by more than 10 percent week to week. This means more than 6.5 million Americans have been in hospital beds with a COVID-19 infection since the start of the pandemic.

In California alone, hospitalizations spiked statewide by more than 14 percent over that same time period. But in San Diego County, hospitals aren’t reporting a lot of COVID-19 activity. “We’re not seeing a large increase in cases or hospitalizations,” said San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.

So why does San Diego County appear to be better off than the rest of the state, or for that matter, the nation?

“We have a new strain which just came out of nowhere,” said Dr. Kaveh Bahmanpour, a primary care physician for Sharp Community Medical Group. He says this new strain, JN-1, is spreading lightning fast in San Diego County, accounting for a dominating number of positive cases.

The upside is so far is it appears the new strain carries very mild symptoms – like an average cold. “Most of the people, they don’t test themselves for COVID anymore,” said Bahmanpour. “So they might get it for a few days and don’t know about it.”

Preventative Measures

Beyond vaccination and staying home when sick, people can take other precautions to protect themselves and others against COVID-19, the flu and RSV with these measures:

• Cleaning hands thoroughly and often.

• Staying away from people who are sick.

• Covering your cough and sneezes.

• Wearing a facial covering, especially in crowded indoor settings.

• Regularly cleaning commonly touched surfaces.

• Doing at-home tests when exposed to COVID-19 or when ill. The federal government is currently providing free at-home COVID-19 tests. Households can order a pack of four free tests through the U.S. Postal Service.

• Those who test positive for COVID can take an antiviral drug such as Paxlovid or Tamiflu for the flu. These medications can reduce the severity of the illness