Navigating a ‘Tripledemic’ — How to Avoid Getting Sick This Winter

U.S. hospitals are reaching nearly record-capacity levels since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to data from the Department of Health & Human Services. With nearly 80% of inpatient hospital beds currently full, the figure hasn’t been seen since the weed ending January 23, 2022, when the omicron wave was winding down, according to one ABC News analysis of the data. However, with only 5.5% of inpatient beds being used for COVID-19 patients, the concerns of this winter revolving around a potential ‘tripledemic.’ From the current concerns to understanding the season’s effect on contracting viruses, here’s what you should know to avoid getting sick this winter — and how you can stay healthy.

RSV, flu, and COVID-19: Avoid getting sick this winter

According to Yale Medicine, some experts are worried about a potential ‘tripledemic,’ this winter, a term that refers to the collision of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu, and COVID-19 “to the extent that it might overwhelm hospital emergency departments.” Yale Medicine further points out that while the three viruses are present right now, they aren’t peaking at the same time. With record levels of RSV presenting in young children, a lack of immunity from not having been exposed to the flu, and COVID-19 still circulating, the presence of each virus has led to a variety of concerns.

Drug shortages across the country is just one worry, with parents spotting shortages of certain medicines and over-the-counter pain relievers, notes 6abc. “The 20 years that I’ve been practicing I’ve never seen drug shortages quite like this,” said Dr. Steve Adkinds, pharmacist and owner of Health Park Pharmacy in Raleigh, North Carolina. Workplace and school absences are another concern, as parents stay home to care for their sick kids. The Washington Post highlights the fact that many schools, including in states such as Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, have had to cancel classes due to the number of students and teachers out sick.

Understanding winter illnesses

According to Healthline, the average American adult experiences 2-3 bouts of the common cold a year, with the likelihood of getting sick increasing during the winter. New research published this month, however, debunks the theory as to why we’re more susceptible to illness during the winter season. While many have long believed that the cold weather drives people indoors — thus resulting in the ease of viruses passing to one another in close proximity, the research, coming from a team at Massachusetts Eye and Ear hospital and Northeastern University, suggests otherwise. Healthline summarizes the findings, noting that cold temperatures lower immunity in the nose, thus making us more susceptible to viruses.

While the new research highlights groundbreaking findings, it’s important to keep in mind that one can get sick in a variety of other ways as well. With many hospitals overwhelmed with patients, practicing proper hygiene is just one way to prevent illness if you’re visiting a loved one, though hospitals themselves must play a role in maintaining a sanitary environment. Professional hospital cleaning, for instance, is essential in preventing illness, and consists of comprehensive services — from floors, walls, and windows to full bathroom sanitization and beyond. With hospital superbugs having developed due to unclean hospital environments, a professional cleaning service ensures that all potential bugs/bateria are wiped out before they have the chance to spread.

From masks to hygiene — taking individual precautions

When looking to avoid the three primary viruses that are making their rounds this winter, taking the right precautions can certainly make a difference. Health experts are renewing recommendations to wear high-quality medical masks on public transportation, in airports and on planes, and while shopping or in other crowded public spaces, according to The Washington Post. It’s important to note that this recommendation isn’t solely for preventing COVID-19. “Masks will help reduce your risk of all respiratory viruses not just covid,” said Jay K. Varma, an internal medicine physician, epidemiologist and professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medical College. Varma stresses the importance of wearing quality masks, and doing so consistently and correctly. Preventing illness this winter can also be done via proper handwashing. Washing hands with plain soap and water kills viruses, though this is only true when done correctly. The Harvard Gazette notes that hands should be scrubbed for at least 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

With RSV, COVID-19, and the flu spurring fears of a tripledemic, the effects of the illnesses can be seen via the increase in hospital capacities, school and workplace absences, and drug shortages. While catching a virus can feel imminent, masking up and practicing proper hygiene are just two effective ways that can help you stay healthy this winter.

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