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Flu, COVID-19 at 'high levels' in Virginia, RSV cases on the decline

A Virginia Department of Health doctor said a "tripledemic" isn't happening right now. But as COVID and flu cases skyrocket, you need to get vaccinated.

RICHMOND, Va. — As cases of respiratory illness skyrocket across the country, health experts in Virginia say fears about a potential "tripledemic" aren't a cause for concern.

Tripledemic refers to rising cases of the flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) at the same time. Dr. Brooke Rossheim of the Virginia Department of Health said RSV cases have reached their peak and are "coming way down."

RELATED | Rising flu and COVID cases ‘concerning’ to local health group working to administer vaccines

“I don’t know if we will have a ‘tripledemic.’ At least one part of the tripledemic seems to be stabilized," Dr. Rossheim said. “What we’re seeing right now is that RSV has gone down in Virginia, a lot."

He said the state is “close to baseline numbers” when it comes to RSV, but the same can’t be said for COVID-19 and the flu.

“9.2% of all visits to ED – emergency departments – or urgent care cents are for influenza-like illness or ILI," Dr. Rossheim said. “The flu season really started out strong, far higher in terms of the amount of flu activity that’s estimated to be out there than really the last five or six seasons."

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said rising respiratory infections are putting a strain on healthcare systems 

“We have seen signs that RSV may have peaked in some areas," she said. "While this is encouraging, respiratory illnesses continue to spread at high levels nationwide. Even in areas where RSV may be decreasing, our hospital systems continue to be stretched with high numbers of patients with other respiratory illnesses.”

And those aren’t the only viruses floating around, according to American Medical Association Board Chair Dr. Sandra Fryhofer.

“The people that are testing negative for flu, COVID, and RSV should be very glad. But understand those aren’t the only respiratory infections that are out there," Dr. Fryhofer said. “It is going to be a confusing respiratory infection season. Figuring out what’s making people sick is going to be a conundrum.”

Dr. Fryhofer and Dr. Walensky said while standard advice like staying home when sick and washing your hands will help slow the spread of infection, some illnesses are preventable.

“There are numerous other respiratory viral pathogens that circulate this time of year," Dr. Walensky said. "There are other pathogens out there, we want to make sure that we are on top of the ones that people can do something about – that is prevention with vaccines.”

Dr. Walensky said her team is “seeing lower rates of vaccination compared to this time last year." She’s warning Americans – although you may have received both doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, you still need the new, updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccine targeting the omicron variants.

“We know that if you received your primary COVID vaccine series only, you are considered fully vaccinated. But you are not considered fully protected,” Dr. Walensky said.

Dr. Fryhofer added: “This year’s flu season is off to a rough start. Flu’s here, it started early, and with COVID and RSV also circulating, it’s a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season.”

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