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Respiratory viruses prompt urgent appeal to vaccinate, mask

A triple threat of potentially deadly viruses is preventable.

With the worst yet to come, Kaiser Permanente is urging members to redouble efforts to wear masks, social distance, wash hands, and get vaccinated amid a spike in 3 different respiratory viruses, all of which can be fatal.

As of mid-December, COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are all at high levels in Northern California and nationwide, with more infections likely to occur after the holidays and during the cold weather when people spend more time inside with others.

“People should be masking indoors and when they travel to avoid all of these viruses,” said Darvin Scott Smith, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s clinical vaccine lead for Northern California. “Getting the flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine are very good preventive strategies, and they are available to get at the same time. The flu vaccine this year is very effective, so that is a relief.”

Red alert

According to Kaiser Permanente data, 15 of 18 geographical areas in Northern California reached the highest “red” alert level in mid-December for COVID-19 in terms of cases per 100,000 population and test positivity rate. The flu test positivity rate for members who are tested in their doctor’s office or the emergency room is at 27%, and the RSV positivity rate is at 9%.

There is not currently a vaccine for RSV.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 15 million people have already had the flu, 150,000 have been hospitalized, and 9,300 have died from it. The CDC recommends anyone age 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine.

So far this year, Kaiser Permanente Northern California has given 1.47 million doses of flu vaccine to 37% of its members.

“With all 3 of these viruses, we have had an uptick in hospitalizations in the Northern California region,” said Dr. Smith. “But it’s still very early in the season, so the overarching advice is get vaccinated for flu and COVID-19, wearing a mask if you’re in any crowded spaces, especially when you are travelling.”



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