Late last year, the world witnessed a healthcare crisis of unprecedented proportions – the “tripledemic” of COVID-19, seasonal flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) simultaneously overwhelmed hospitals, particularly pediatric facilities, across the United States and around the globe. Now, experts warn that a similar pattern could reemerge this year, posing significant challenges for our healthcare system and individual patients alike.
Adding COVID-19 to the mix of seasonal flu and RSV creates a perfect storm for healthcare systems. Hospitals already strained by one respiratory virus outbreak are further overwhelmed by the arrival of others.
Doug Laher, the COO of the American Association for Respiratory Care, cautions that while experts warn of a potential tripledemic, it’s impossible to say for certain whether it will happen. However, the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” reminds us that testing frequently and wearing PPE is the key in managing the situation effectively.
Wastewater data indicates rising COVID-19 levels in the United States, and hospitalizations have been on the rise. Furthermore, the emergence of new variants like EG.5.1, or Eris, presents a potential challenge. Although not deemed extremely concerning, variants like Eris may contribute to a sustained high baseline of cases.
As children return to school and people spend more time indoors during colder weather, the importance of good hand hygiene cannot be overstated. Social distancing and wearing N-95 masks when appropriate can also help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. However, the most powerful tool at our disposal remains vaccination. The tripledemic may persist, but its impact can be significantly reduced by preventing the spread of these viruses. The previous tripledemic was exacerbated by low vaccination rates among children, with many not receiving flu or COVID-19 vaccines. This year, however, three vaccines are available to protect against severe illness: COVID-19, seasonal flu, and new RSV vaccines, available for various age groups.
The CDC recommended a new injectable, long-acting monoclonal antibody treatment called nirsevimab for infants aged 8 months and younger, and for some higher-risk children up to 19 months old. This treatment can reduce the risk of hospitalizations and doctor visits for RSV in infants, alleviating the burden on the healthcare system.
As we stand on the precipice of another flu and RSV season, with the ongoing threat of COVID-19, it’s crucial to take proactive measures. This is our new “flatten the curve” moment, where the power to reduce illness and hospitalizations lies in our hands. Vaccination, PPE, hygiene, and frequent testing can make a significant difference in our ability to navigate the tripledemic.
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