What is the Tripledemic?

You might have seen reports we’re headed for a ‘tripledemic’ this winter. But what is it? It’s the combination of COVID, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, that threatens to overwhelm hospitals over the coming months. Why might this happen? Let’s look at four reasons behind this.

1. COVID cases are rising 

Although COVID cases are currently low, they’re rising in parts of the US. China, the UK, France, and Germany have seen an increase in people being admitted to hospitals and deaths. New Omicron sub-variants, like BQ.1.1, can sidestep immunity and existing treatments, causing a winter wave. As always, those with underlying health conditions, those who are unvaccinated, and older people are more susceptible to the virus.

2. Flu cases are rising earlier than normal

As the New York Times reports, the southern hemisphere’s flu season, which usually lasts from May to October, is highly predictive of the northern hemisphere’s winter. Flu cases and hospitalisations were much higher this year in Australia and New Zealand compared to previous years. The influenza rate among Nicaraguan children was also higher than during the 2009 flu pandemic, and the average child was sicker.

3. RSV is also surging earlier

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Although most recover within a week or two, RSV can be severe, especially for infants and older adults. In fact, 14,000 adults over 65 and 300 children under 5 die each year from this disease in the United States. Cases usually reach their peak in the winter, but it has recently surged much earlier than expected in parts of the US, leading to capacity issues at hospitals.

4. Precautions are dropping

Precautionary mask-wearing and social distancing over the last two years led to a huge decline in respiratory viruses like flu and RSV. This year they’re back. As Dr Kristin Moffit, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital states, “It’s what’s being referred to as this immunity gap that people have experienced from not having been exposed to our typical respiratory viruses for the last couple of years.”

Health experts advise people should get flu shots, and COVID boosters, wash their hands, avoid people when ill, and consider wearing masks in crowded indoor areas. Let’s do our best to avoid a tripledemic.

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