First RSV Death of Child Under 5 Years Old Reported in California

Portable hospital bed in hallway
Portable hospital bed in hallway

Gurney in hospital hallway

California is the latest state to be hit with an increase in Respiratory Syncytial Virus cases.

On Monday, the California Department of Public Health reported the state's first death this season in a child under 5 years of age due to the flu and RSV.

"Our hearts go out to the family of this young child," said State Public Health Officer and CDPH Director Dr. Tomás Aragón in a statement.

"This tragic event serves as a stark reminder that respiratory viruses can be deadly, especially in very young children and infants. We are entering a busy winter virus season – with RSV, flu and COVID-19 spreading."

The virus spreads to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia (infection of the lung) and bronchiolitis (inflammation of the lung) and can result in severe complications in babies younger than 12 months.

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Aragón called for parents to remember basic prevention tips like frequent hand washing, wearing a mask, and staying home when sick.

While there are no vaccines yet to prevent RSV infections, the CDPH urged parents to protect children with a seasonal influenza vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine.

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Earlier in November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health advisory alert after it observed an increase in RSV detections and RSV-associated emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

According to its report, some regions showed near the seasonal peak levels typically observed in December or January. This year, rates of RSV-associated hospitalizations also began to increase during late spring and continued to increase through the summer and into early fall.

"The reason why it's spreading now is unclear, but likely relates to the reason we didn't see much RSV and influenza last winter: masking, distancing and good handwashing," said Dr. Elizabeth Murray, a pediatrician specializing in Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Child Health Advocacy and a member of PEOPLE's Health Squad. "As those precautions start to go away, we can expect germs to return."