What is a tripledemic? Here’s how to stay safe over the holidays
Hooray! With less than one month between now and Christmas, many of us are busy shopping, reserving dinner tables, adorning our homes with Christmas items, and organising parties and gatherings. And who can blame us for that? For many of us, this will be the first Christmas in three years when we can really have a good time with family and friends.
But if you think COVID-19 is ebbing, and we can all party like there is no tomorrow, you’d better think again. Not only does COVID-19 remain a threat, but two other viruses are rearing their ugly heads – the RSV (respiratory syncytial virus – a common and highly contagious respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms) and the flu virus. Some medical experts are worried that a potential “tripledemic” is just around the corner, which is why this Pacific Prime UK article covers what you need to know and how to keep safe this winter.
So what is a tripledemic?
Not an official scientific term yet, “tripledemic” is a term medical experts have coined to refer to a partly overlapped peaking of RSV, flu, and COVID-19 that may cause hospital emergency departments to be overwhelmed.
It’s not by pure coincidence that these three viruses converge – there have been fewer RSV and flu cases over the past couple of years, exactly because measures against the spread of COVID-19 had included social distancing, masking and other precautions. These measures slowed down not only the spread of COVID-19, but RSV and the flu as well.
Infections to increase in winter 2022
Now that no coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions are in force in the UK, we are once again exposed to RSV and the flu virus. In normal times, most kids will have been exposed to RSV by their second birthday, thus possessing some immunity making future infections less dangerous. That explains why the current spike of RSV poses a particular threat to very young children, most of whom have been quite effectively shielded from RSV from the day they were born. Like many other infections, RSV is also more dangerous for the very old, and people with a compromised immune system or underlying health conditions.
A similar thing is happening with flu cases. Reduced exposure to the flu virus over the past few years has led to a decline in our collective immunity against it. It’s a foregone conclusion that flu cases will increase this winter.
How worried should we be
Luckily, it’s not all gloom and doom. There are two reasons why our immediate future is nowhere nearly as bleak as the above discussion may seem to suggest.
For starters, we know a lot about RSV and have effective treatments for them. Although presently, there is no vaccine for RSV, several are in development. Premature babies or babies with a medical condition may qualify for RSV antibody injections to help prevent severe complications.
And just like the COVID-19 vaccines, the influenza vaccine may not provide a complete shield, but it very effectively keeps you from becoming seriously ill and needing hospitalisation, or dying.
Furthermore, there are strong indications that RSV and the flu virus are not going to peak simultaneously. RSV usually spikes in December or January, but it started significantly earlier this year, with many cases occurring as early as in the summer. What is hoped is that RSV dies down similarly sooner, so that our medical professionals won’t be fighting a war on two fronts (or three fronts if you add COVID-19 to the mix) all at once.
And here’s what we can do to stay safe
Now we come to the most important topic of staying safe, and here’s what we can do:
1. Wash hands frequently and clean easily contaminated surfaces often
While COVID-19 is transmitted in the air, both RSV and the flu virus can be spread by touching contaminated surfaces.
2. Follow respiratory etiquettes
The flu virus can be transmitted in the air and on surfaces, so respiratory etiquettes, such as coughing into a tissue and then disposing of it immediately in the rubbish bin, are crucial in preventing the spread of diseases.
3. Avoid contact with people who may be sick
If you or someone in close contact is sick, stay away from others until your symptoms are over and you no longer have a fever.
4. Be vigilant, especially if you have a newborn at home
Newborns and very young children are particularly vulnerable, so only let people with good personal hygiene and no symptoms go near them.
5. Get properly vaccinated
In a way, you are like your computer. One of the best ways to protect your computer against viruses and other attacks is by seeing it has up-to-date antivirus installed, and by getting your flu shot and seeing you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination (including the new bivalent booster), you are doing yourself a big favour.
6. Avoid big crowds
It’s almost inevitable that some people in a big crowd are sick with one or more of the three viruses.
7. Take a rapid test before joining others
If everybody does that, the risks of infection can be further reduced.
8. Call your physician and emergency service sensibly
If you or someone in your household is not feeling well but still looks well, you should call your family physician. In emergency situations, naturally, calling the emergency service is the right thing to do. But using emergency services sensibly help make them available to people who really need them. So only call 999 if you or someone with you is in a life-threatening situation and requires immediate medical intervention.
Get in touch with Pacific Prime UK today!
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