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What You Need to Know Before the Tripledemic Hits

By Skye Sherman  •   November 21, 2022
•    Medically Reviewed By Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Jan 19, 2023

Photo Credit: by EVG Kowalievska, Pexel.com
Photo Credit: by EVG Kowalievska, Pexel.com

We all did what we could to weather the COVID-19 pandemic. It was an unprecedented time facing a global pandemic and all of life around us changed. The world has moved on in many ways, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet.

Have you heard about the potential tripledemic coming our way? This is a word describing the potential for a perfect storm of flu season, new COVID strains, and the recent resurgence of RSV. As Prevention puts it, “Late fall heading into winter is known as respiratory virus season, but this year things are a little different. Three respiratory viruses are surging—RSV, COVID-19, and the flu—in what plenty of people are now calling a ‘tripledemic’ of infectious diseases.”

Read on for everything you need to know about the tripledemic before it hits.

What is a tripledemic?

The tripledemic is the fancy name being given to the convergence of three different illnesses, all hitting their hardest at one time. Influenza or flu season comes every year, and the COVID virus will likely be around for the foreseeable future, but it’s not always that RSV is ramping up at the same time.

Riverside Health System reports, “Several medical experts and public health officials have expressed increasing concern that a surge in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is overlapping with an increase in COVID-19 transmission and an ‘earlier than usual’ flu season. This is raising warnings that a ‘tripledemic’ of respiratory illness may emerge this winter according to Dr. Michelle Jowdy, a board-certified pediatrician at Riverside Family Medicine & Pediatrics Brentwood.”

That’s why this situation is unique. All three are respiratory ailments that are coming toward the public in full force, at the same time of year that many gather with family and friends for the holidays and plan travel to destinations near and far.

The article continues, “Medical experts are concerned that all three of these viruses will occur at once this winter, because RSV and flu has already overwhelmed some hospitals and medical centers in certain parts of the U.S.”

Another factor to consider is the changing weather. Many people develop colds and other illnesses as the seasons change, and all three viruses are more likely to have a severe impact on parts of the country that are colder, because when the weather outside is frigid, people don’t go outdoors much. They stay indoors, huddle together, and keep the windows closed, all spelling out a recipe for rapid transmission of contagious airborne viruses. What’s more, these viruses thrive in cool, dry air. If you live in a place that’s cold, take extra caution.

No matter how you look at it, this winter is shaping up to be a season full of bugs and crud.

What you need to know about the tripledemic viruses

If you start feeling off or unwell this season, don’t immediately assume it’s COVID or a cold. The options are a little more unsure this year.

That’s because while RSV, the flu, and COVID-19 are caused by different types of viruses, there are many similarities between the three. For example, all share similar symptoms, affect a person’s respiratory system, and are contagious. You might not give much thought to your respiratory system on a regular basis, but as soon as there’s an issue with your lungs, you quickly realize just how important this vital organ is to your daily life and survival.

In addition, unfortunately all three may cause mild to severe illness. That’s why the threat of a tripledemic is concerning to the medical establishment. It may take a bit more time for people to get the help they need.

However, it’s essential to be aware of just why the tripledemic is shaping up to be such a threat. Prevention reports, “Flu cases are higher than they typically are this time of year, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV cases are soaring, and COVID-19 cases are starting to creep upward again—and things are expected to get worse before they get better.”

In other words, there’s going to be three active respiratory viruses this season. This is more than we usually face! Prevention also reports: “Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, points out that it’s not unusual for several respiratory viruses to pick up this time of year. But what is unusual is the large number of RSV cases and the severity of them.”

Aside from that, it’s the most vulnerable among us that are the most susceptible to these and other illnesses. That includes children, the unvaccinated, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. It will be especially important this year for vulnerable populations to avoid unnecessary contact with others and stay home if they’re sick.

The main things medical professionals are concerned about is the potential of many people developing serious complications from any of the viruses, which will lead to strains on hospital capacity. We don’t want to see the health care system get overwhelmed because this places undue stress on doctors, nurses, and patients alike, opening the door for worse outcomes than necessary.

This is of particular concern because the RSV surge is mainly affecting children, and pediatric are teams are already on overdrive due to the unusually high rates of RSV.

Today reports, “More than three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds in the U.S. are full, driven primarily by a surge in respiratory viruses … In Massachusetts, some hospitals have been forced to postpone pediatric surgeries. In Arizona and Rhode Island, 100% of children’s hospital beds are full.”

It’s a perfect storm because all of this is happening at the same time that the U.S. is facing a shortage of healthcare workers. In other words: in some hospitals, while beds are available, there are not enough staff to care for the patients who need them.

As you can see, if all three viruses peak at the same time, this could become a big issue for adults and children alike.

How to prepare for (and stay safe during) the tripledemic

Is it possible to get all three viruses of the tripledemic all in one season? Doctors say yes. Don’t let this be you.

The best thing you can do to prepare for the tripledemic is to take the necessary precautions and take the steps you can to protect yourself against disease. One of the main options for protecting yourself against both COVID-19 and the flu is to get a vaccine, since there is a vaccine available for both ailments.

As Riverside Health System explains, “Public health experts suggest getting a flu shot, because the vaccine is extremely effective in lessening the symptoms of flu. Get vaccinated as soon as flu shots are available.” And, in addition: “Getting vaccinated with the current bivalent booster which is targeted to Omicron sub variants can help prevent the most severe COVID-19 sickness.”

However, it’s important to note that there is no immunization currently available for RSV. Fortune reports: “There is no vaccine for RSV yet, although there are two treatments available that can help infants and young children. … Each year, approximately 58,000 children under 5 are hospitalized as a result of RSV infection.”

In any case, some of the most effective preventive actions for all three types of viruses are stopping the spread of germs. Some of the main ways you can stop the spread of germs, which will protect you against the tripledemic viruses and other airborne diseases, are:

● Any time you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or at least your upper shirt sleeve. If you have to use your hands, wash or sanitize them right away.

● Frequently, but especially before and after eating, using the bathroom, or coming into contact with another person, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

● Avoid close contact with others, especially strangers. This can include kissing, shaking hands, sharing cups and eating utensils, and any other form of casual contact.

● Sanitize high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, railings, mobile phones, and devices.

● Wear a mask when indoors or around crowds of people.

Another thing you might consider is taking an over the counter medication like Cold Fx, which is used to help prevent the chances of catching a cold or flu by boosting the immune system and reducing the frequency, severity, and duration of cold and flu symptoms. It’s also a good idea to up your Vitamin C intake and get more Vitamin D to strengthen your immune system. A little extra time in the sun and some quality sleep can also work wonders!

Lastly, remember that it’s not all about you. Even if you’re not concerned about your own ability to handle the tripledemic, be aware that your actions affect others, and you may unknowingly spread these diseases if you do not take the proper precautions to protect yourself and others.

As Health puts it: “Adults, teens, and older children also likely have waning or no immunity to RSV following pandemic precautions, and they can pass the virus to younger kids and infants … What probably presents as a mild cold to them can be much more intense for infants and the elderly.”

If you do wind up sick, consult a medical professional right away. Flu antiviral drugs like Relenza (Zanamivir) are available if your doctor prescribes them.



The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.