Are ‘Tripledemics’ Here to Stay?

COVID, flu and RSV are all threats this winter.

January 2023 – The Journal of Healthcare Contracting

By Pete Mercer

Since early 2020, the word pandemic has been a part of our everyday vernacular. Even after almost three years, the pandemic is technically still not over, just entering new phases.

In the last few years, those phases have been variants that were more or less contagious than the previous iterations. Each new wave posed a threat to the uninfected and unvaccinated, perpetuating stages of social distancing. As we spent more time isolated from each other, we weakened our immune systems to infectious respiratory illnesses like the common cold and the flu.

As social distancing has largely fallen to the wayside, the positive cases for the flu have skyrocketed, leading experts to predict a more contagious flu season than the last could of years. Now, some infectious disease experts have forecasted what could be the next phase of pandemic – the tripledemic.

What is a tripledemic?

The tripledemic is the intersection of the flu, COVID-19, and RSV during the holiday season, an already primetime slot for respiratory illnesses. The flu got an early start, as the CDC began reporting seasonal flu activity in the early fall, with an increase in activity in the southeast and south-central parts of the country.

As of November 12, the CDC FluView reported that there were 15,308 (14.7%) positive flu cases and 8,707 hospitalizations in the United States. In the same week, the weekly CDC COVID report found that the average of weekly new cases dropped 3.2% (40,102 cases) compared to the previous week.

“COVID cases are expected to rise during the winter. This will be occurring at the same time we expect to see influenza rates increase while we are already seeing an early start to RSV season,” said Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital in a press release. “With all three viruses on the rise, we are worried about an increase in the rates of viral infection that may lead to an increase in hospitalizations.”

According to a report from WebMD, experts are saying that flu and RSV are “playing catchup” from taking a backseat to COVID in the last few years. Elizabeth Murray, DO, a pediatric emergency medicine doctor at the University of Rochester Medical told WebMD, “RSV has always come around in the fall and winter. It’s a perfect storm for all the germs to spread now. They’ve just been waiting for their opportunity to come back.”

Can we avoid it?

While the possibility of infection in a tripledemic might seem more likely than a pandemic, there are still plenty of ways to avoid getting sick this winter. RSV can infect anyone, but children under the age of five and adults over 65 are most susceptible. Because the flu, RSV, and COVID are respiratory infections, symptoms can overlap for each illness.

At the end of the day, the best way to avoid getting infected or spreading infection is to stay home if you’re feeling sick. As always, washing hands and getting vaccinated are great ways to protect yourself this season.

Mandy De Vries, a respiratory therapist and director of education at the American Association for Respiratory Care, said to WebMD, “It’s important to seek medical attention for any concerning symptoms, but especially severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, as these could signal the need for supplemental oxygen or other emergency interventions.”

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