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November 2, 2022

In The News: A ‘Tripledemic’? Flu, R.S.V. and COVID May Collide This Winter, Experts Say

The New York Times reports on an expected collision of respiratory viruses this winter. With few to little restrictions in place for travelling or gathering socially or in schools, experts forecast a rise in COVID-19 cases to connect with a resurgent flu season plus an already explosion in RSV, rhinoviruses, and enteroviruses, or what is being referred to as a ‘tripledemic.’ Most cases are predicted to be mild, though taken altogether, the volume of diseases and sick patients may overwhelm hospitals.

The article notes experts urge everyone to get vaccinated for COVID and flu to protect against severe illness or death from the looming threats. It also notes the particular danger flu and RSV pose to children who, whether from waned immunity or lack of exposure during pandemic sheltering, have little immunity and the lack of a vaccine for the latter. There are, however, at least two RSV vaccine candidates in late-stage clinical trials that appear effective for older adults as well as an antiviral in development. RSV cases are already appearing in pediatric hospitals and experts are basing COVID and flu waves on happenings abroad.

COVID cases and deaths are up in several European countries. The Omicron variants at work there appear adept at dodging immunity, whether from prior infection or vaccination, and reaction to drugs such as Evusheld and Bebtelovimab. The latest COVID boosters were designed for older variants, though it is hoped they raise antibody levels overall and help protect from severe symptoms. These boosters are authorized for everyone 5 years and older, but fewer than one in three children aged 5 to 11 have completed the primary series.

Meanwhile, flu predictions are based on a severe flu season experienced by the southern hemisphere. The season began earlier, and Nicaragua experienced higher flu rates than the 2009 flu pandemic and children were sicker than on average. Similarly, some southern states had an earlier onset and report a rise in ventilator use. Also of note, according to CDC analysis, the flu vaccination rate for children 6 months to 4 years of age showed the biggest drop off from prior to COVID, falling 75% to 67%. One of the most effective measures available is the viable flu vaccine.

PIDS member Alpana Waghmare appears in the story, saying, “We’re seeing everything come back with a vengeance.” Also quoted in the story, Diego Hijano added, “As of today, we are seeing equal numbers of COVID, flu, and RSV and that’s really concerning because we are very early for flu and RSV activity. It’s going to be a rough winter.”

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