The COVID-19 matter feels like a never-ending tale. While the worst of the pandemic has passed, the fall season has brought rising cases and hospitalizations. Now experts fear a repeat of last fall, when a combination of respiratory diseases and COVID overwhelmed American hospitals’ capacity.
But does this repetition of the “tripledemic” hold true? In this post, we’ll analyze last year’s scenario and compare it with current indicators. Let’s get started.
The Tripledemic Then and Now
The tripledemic was quite a serious situation last year. An early outbreak of flu and RSV combined with new COVID-19 strains led hospitalizations to rise beyond hospital capacity. This triple epidemic lasted four months and resulted in over a hundred thousand deaths.
The relaxation of anti-COVID measures was one of the culprits behind the triple epidemic. Since RSV and influenza are primarily transmitted through saliva particulates, the end of mask mandates and the return of large gatherings aided its spread. Plus, the population hadn’t been exposed to viruses for a long time thanks to the COVID lockdowns, increasing their vulnerability. As a result, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
Both infants and the elderly were particularly impacted.
Let us have a closer look at each of the three conditions.
COVID, Flu and RSV: A Brief Overview
One of the most common and well-known respiratory disease, affecting millions worldwide every year, the flu was particularly vicious in 2022. The flu season started early and ended late, probably because of the reduced exposure to the virus during the previous years. Our bodies had less of a chance to produce antibodies, and many people didn’t get an up-to-date flu vaccine. The CDC reported between 17,000-98,000 flu deaths in 2022
The typical symptoms of influenza are well known, but it’s good to keep them in mind:
- Chills and even fever in some cases
- Muscular pain
- Increased nasal mucus
- Vomiting and diarrhea
The latter symptoms, especially in the case of children and the elderly, can lead to dehydration.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus that can resemble the common cold and affect both infants and adults.
RSV symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Breathing difficulties
- Cyanosis (bluish skin, caused by lack of oxygenation)
RSV reached its peak in mortality during the tripledemc, causing between 6,000-10,000 deaths, exceeding pre-quarantine levels, which were between 5,000-6,000. Weakened immune systems due to the pandemic made it much worse than it could have been.
A disease that by now needs no introduction, COVID-19 has been a thorn in humanity’s side since 2020. Although vaccines had already been widely spread last year, Omicron caused a flare-up in cases. These cases were far fewer than those in 2021. Nonetheless, COVID still caused nearly 244.000 deaths in the US deaths during the tripledemic.
Omicron symptoms are similar to those of the flu or common cold, with the addition of typical COVID-19 ailments such as:
- Loss of smell and taste
- Severe fatigue
- Brain fog (confusion, dizziness)
Omicron was less severe than previous strains but more easily spread, affecting even those who had been boosted and vaccinated.
Will There Be a Tripledemic in 2023?
Overall, it seems that we shouldn’t worry about a new tripledemic for now. The flu season started when it was typically expected and its vaccine has been appropriately updated. In fact, the CDC reported low seasonal influenza activity for the first two weeks of October.
When it comes to RSV, there were several breakthroughs last year as doctors focused closely on the disease. First, the FDA has approved vaccination during pregnancy, providing antibodies to unborn children. And for those who couldn’t be immunized prenatally, there is now a drug in the Vaccines for Children program that provides immunity for up to six months. The elderly have also been taken into account, with vaccination campaigns against RSV being approved for those sixty and older. These advances have resulted in a tenth of reported RSV cases this October, compared to last year’s.
Regarding COVID-19, the reports seem to be encouraging, with the latest WHO epidemiological report showing a marked decrease in cases and deaths. This is caused by the effective vaccination and boosting campaigns implemented worldwide, which seem to still be effective against the new “Eris” strain.
It appears that we can feel reassured, as there is no indication of a recurrence of the tripledemic.
We still haven’t been able to leave COVID-19 totally behind. Although the number of cases has been decreasing since the beginning of the fall, it’s worth noting that there was an uptick in cases by the end of Summer. Vigilance is our best defense against this disease, especially to protect the most vulnerable among us.
If you suspect you may have COVID, get tested promptly. Visit our global directory and find a testing center near you.