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Home » Flu, COVID, RSV on the rise — beware the tripledemic

Flu, COVID, RSV on the rise — beware the tripledemic


The “tripledemic” of the season flu, new COVID-19 variants, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have begun to hit the USA, including California, according to news reports and CDC data. All three diseases are caused by respiratory viruses that can be dangerous, especially for seniors and young children.

Luckily for us, there’s a way to prevent them — safe and effective vaccines for all three.

This article will cover RSV (since many people don’t know about the disease), what’s happening in California with RSV, flu, and COVID-19, and then I will tell you about the vaccines that prevent the tripledemic.

woman lying on bed while blowing her nose
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

What is the respiratory syncytial virus?

The respiratory syncytial virus is a common, contagious virus that causes infections of the respiratory tract. It is a single-stranded RNA virus, and its name is derived from the large cells known as syncytia that form when infected cells fuse.

It usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. But it can cause serious lung infections, especially in infants, seniors, and people with serious comorbidities. For seniors, RSV infections are dangerous as immune systems weaken.

RSV spreads from person to person through:

  • The air by coughing and sneezing.
  • Direct contact, such as kissing the face of a child who has RSV.
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands.

(I don’t mean to keep repeating myself, but all the measures you take to reduce your risk for COVID-19 seem to help prevent RSV.)

RSV can sometimes lead to pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and congestive heart failure (when the heart can’t pump blood and oxygen to the body’s tissues).

According to the CDC, each year in the United States, RSV leads to approximately:

  • 2.1 million outpatient visits among children younger than 5 years old
  • 58,000-80,000 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old
  • 100–300 deaths in children younger than 5 years old.
  • 60,000-120,000 hospitalizations among adults 65 years and older
  • 6,000-10,000 deaths among adults 65 years and older

I know these numbers pale next to COVID-19, but before the pandemic, an RSV vaccine was often at the top of the wish list for a new vaccine. And those who had children or parents who had to deal with a serious RSV case, probably wish there was a vaccine too.

Hopefully, these vaccines will soon become available, as new research is quantifying their need:

  • The JAMA Network published an article on 29 December 2021 that suggests RSV poses a greater risk to infants than influenza, while both are associated with substantial mortality among elderly individuals.
  • The journal PNAS published research on 14 March 2022, which found that administering an RSV vaccine to pregnant mothers reduced antimicrobial prescribing among their infants by 12.9% over the first three months.  

What’s happening now with RSV, flu, and COVID-19?

According to the CDC, cases of RSV, flu, and COVID-19 are increasing in many parts of the country using emergency room visit data. Most states, including California, are experiencing increases in tripledemic infections:

  • California — ER visits for COVID-19, flu, and RSV are increasing.
  • New York — ER visits for COVID-19, flu, and RSV are increasing.
  • Minnesota — ER visits for COVID-19, flu, and RSV are increasing.
  • Pennsylvania — ER visits for COVID-19, flu, and RSV are increasing.
  • Tennessee — ER visits for COVID-19 and flu are increasing.

I don’t want to go through each country in the country, but it appears that there are significant increases in tripledemic diseases throughout the USA, especially in northern states.

In California, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health has found that COVID-19 cases are slowly increasing through November 2023.

Vaccines for RSV, flu and COVID-19

In case you were wondering, there are safe and effective vaccines that can prevent all three diseases and may save your life.

The Los Angeles Times reports that:

In L.A. County, just 21% of seniors have received the updated COVID-19 vaccination this autumn. Orange County reports that about 25% of its seniors have received the updated shot, as have 27% of seniors in San Diego and Ventura counties. In Riverside County, about 20% of seniors have received the latest shot, as have 17% of seniors in San Bernardino County.

I am baffled by these low COVID-19 vaccination rates, especially in susceptible groups like seniors in California. We don’t have good data on flu and RSV vaccine rates in these groups, but it may be just as low.

These three diseases (especially if you contract two or three at the same time) are dangerous and can kill. Lucky for us, we have these vaccines readily available to prevent the diseases. Please get them.

Citations

Michael Simpson
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