Will Thanksgiving make a bad season of respiratory illness even worse? : Shots - Health News As the holiday approaches, infectious disease specialists are bracing for the possibility that big family get-togethers and travel will propel the spread of RSV, flu and COVID-19.

Experts are concerned Thanksgiving gatherings could accelerate a 'tripledemic'

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To virus news now, specifically the fact that three viruses instead of just one are looming over this holiday season. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein brings us this update on the prospects for a so-called tripledemic.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: For two years, Thanksgiving ushered in very unwelcome guests - devastating waves of COVID. No one thinks this year will be anything like those dark pandemic winters. But the country is facing something entirely new - an unpredictable mashup of old and new respiratory pathogens.

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: We're facing an onslaught of three viruses - COVID, RSV and influenza - all simultaneously.

STEIN: Dr. William Schaffner is an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

SCHAFFNER: We're calling this a tripledemic.

STEIN: RSV crept back first, infecting lockdown babies and their older brothers and sisters with little immunity, overwhelming pediatric emergency rooms and intensive care units from coast to coast. The first big flu season in three years started early, too, sickening more kids with a strain that looks like it could be bad for their grandparents, too. That's swamping more already understaffed, pandemic-spent hospitals. Here's Lynnette Brammer from the CDC.

LYNNETTE BRAMMER: Flu hospitalization rates right now are the highest we've seen for this time of year in the past decade.

STEIN: And now Thanksgiving is coming. Dr. William Schaffner, again, from Vanderbilt.

SCHAFFNER: These holiday celebrations with all their travel and their close contact, usually function as virus accelerators. We're spending a lot of time with each other, laughing and breathing deeply. And that's an ideal environment for these respiratory viruses to spread to others.

STEIN: And, of course, there's COVID still sickening tens of thousands and killing hundreds every day as new omicron subvariants are taking over that are even better at getting people, even if they've been vaxxed, boosted or previously infected.

DAVID RUBIN: The real question that we have is what is this all going to mean for COVID?

STEIN: Dr. David Rubin has been tracking COVID at the PolicyLab in Philadelphia.

RUBIN: We're going to see a January, February resurgence of COVID that's going to be fairly significant. That may yet still be coming.

STEIN: Immunity from all the COVID vaccinations and infections should blunt a new surge of serious illness, especially, Dr. Ashish Jha at the White House says, if people get one of the new bivalent omicron boosters.

ASHISH JHA: I'm hopeful, given where we are, that we're not looking at something like last winter. But, look, at the end of the day, Mother Nature gets the final word on these things.

STEIN: And the new boosters aren't finding a lot of takers; same for flu shots.

JENNIFER NUZZO: Yeah, I think it's a really worrisome situation looking to the weeks coming ahead.

STEIN: Jennifer Nuzzo at Brown University's Pandemic Center knows how done everyone is going into a third pandemic winter.

NUZZO: We can't just resign ourselves to assuming that it's going to happen no matter what. We can very much take action to prevent a rise in hospitalizations and deaths.

STEIN: Like - sorry - Zooming for Thanksgiving if you're sick, doing one of those rapid tests the morning before hugging Grandma and Grandpa and, says Dr. Tina Tan from Northwestern, keeping that mask handy.

TINA TAN: If you're not eating or drinking, it's probably a smart idea to protect the immunocompromised, the infants, as well as the older individuals in the household.

STEIN: Now, here's the good news. RSV may already be peaking, and the flu could peak early too, before colliding with a new COVID surge. There's even a theory RSV and the flu could help stifle COVID like COVID crowded out those viruses the last two years. Fingers crossed for one of those scenarios to be thankful for this year. Rob Stein, NPR News.

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