As surges of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) among children combine with flu season and COVID-19, some medical experts fear a potential “tripledemic.” This tripledemic also intersects with the ongoing medical staffing shortages, resulting in bed shortages and impacted wait times and treatment options.
RSV is a highly contagious virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages and can cause breathing problems. It can live on surfaces, such as counters and doorknobs, as well as on hands and clothing.
Children should wash hands well and often to help prevent getting others sick. Children experiencing symptoms should stay home and away from siblings and other children, especially infants, until their symptoms clear up.
Symptoms of RSV mimic a cold or flu and may appear in stages rather than all at once. Most people recover from RSV in a week or two. However, infants, older adults, and people with chronic health problems are at higher risk for hospitalization.
Flu is also a contagious respiratory illness that can range from mild to severe, and at times can lead to death. Symptoms come on suddenly and people often feel some or all (although not everyone will have a fever).
Like RSV, flu spreads via droplets from coughs and sneezes and can live on surfaces. On average, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from the flu each season. Children are the most likely to get sick from the flu, and older adults are least likely.
The time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about two days, but can range from about one to four days. You may be able to spread flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as when you are sick with symptoms.
Help stop the spread of flu by washing hands regularly, disinfecting surfaces, and limiting crowd exposure and travel while experiencing symptoms.
The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. Find a flu vaccine near you.
As the “tripledemic” progresses, it’s important to make a plan in case you get sick to ensure you receive the support you need. Share your COVID-19 plan with family, friends, and health care providers so they can help you prepare and assist as necessary. Build your personal plan now by downloading COVID-19 Plan.
For people who are sick or caring for others who are sick:
- Stay home and separate from others.
- Improve ventilation (air flow) at home.
- Monitor symptoms and follow health care provider instructions.
- Wear a high-quality mask or respirator when around other people.
- Practice everyday hygiene and cleaning, wash your hands often, and avoid sharing personal household items.
For people who are older or those at high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, treatment may be available that can reduce the chances of being hospitalized or dying from the disease. Stay up to date on COVID-19 symptoms and isolation and travel guidelines.
CDC recommends adolescents and adults stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines for their age group. Updated bivalent boosters, which became available earlier this fall, are also recommended for certain people.