SACRAMENTO -- 'Tis the season for respiratory illnesses.
What has been called by the medical community a "triple-demic" of COVID, RSV and influenza is slamming hospitals as numbers remain high for each.
RSV and flu cases surged much earlier than expected.
"We've had a really early start to RSV this year with a high spike in a number of cases, but the good news is we appear to have peaked or are peaking in terms of RSV transmission," said Dr. Dean Blumberg of UC Davis Health.
As fingers are crossed RSV will begin to decline, California is being hit hard by high flu activity, among the worst in the United States, according to the CDC, which classifies California's flu transmission as "very high."
It's a triple threat with three dangerous respiratory illnesses all spreading widely just weeks out from Christmas Day.
"Influenza is on the rise, and we do expect an uptick in the number of COVID cases," said Blumberg.
According to state data, flu admissions at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California have not spiked this high – this early in the season – since 2017 when a severe flu outbreak killed 52,000 Americans.
"So that's why I am most worried about influenza this year. I think that's going to cause the major problems in terms of hospitalizations, in terms of serious disease and likely in terms of death, too," said Blumberg.
Though COVID's impact is expected to be relatively weaker this winter, numbers continue to climb.
Just last week, the state of California reported on its dashboard that 3,737 people were hospitalized with COVID; that is a jump of more than 2,000 patients from just a month prior in October. It's also higher than in November 2021 by nearly 550 patients.
"However, COVID is not expected to result in the large waves that we saw the last two winters," said Blumberg.
Doctors say precaution is still needed.
"Still being careful and not letting your guard down around that. If you are having symptoms, even if you are COVID-negative, [you should] stay home," said Dr. Ignacio Becerra-Licha with Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center.
RSV, COVID and flu have the potential to overwhelm area hospitals that are already feeling the strain. Adventist Health leaders say they have been watching patterns in countries with an earlier winter season.
"Given the increase in illness in Australia during our summer months, we expected to see a rise in influenza and RSV, along with an increase in COVID-19 and the common cold, as people spend more time indoors. We have been anticipating this busy season and have put plans in place to handle an increase in hospital patient volume," said Dr. Alexander Heard, Medical Officer at Adventist Health and Rideout
For the holidays, doctors say to stay alert to avoid an unwanted gift of respiratory illness.
"Plan around your highest-risk member of your family, also," said Becerra-Licha.
Doctors still encourage people to get that seasonal flu shot, saying it is not too late to get protection.
Another simple thing you can do may actually be one of the hardest: doctors say to try to stop touching your face. It is a habit tough to break but can be one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of flu and RSV.
for more features.