Respiratory 'tripledemic' of COVID-19, flu and RSV taking a toll as CDC urges vaccinations

Tori Hood, an emergency room nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, gives 15-year-old Tristan Linscott her first COVID-19 vaccine dose at a pop-up vaccination clinic at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.

Georgia is seeing very high flu activity again this week as the nationwide flu outbreak fills hospital beds around the United States. The wave of flu patients is further straining a hospital system that is already over capacity, just as the expected post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 spike is picking up steam and RSV continues to circulate. 

It’s the triple whammy of respiratory viruses that public health experts predicted earlier in the fall.

The Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is ramping up calls for Americans to get vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said COVID-19 is surging.  

“This rise in cases and hospitalizations is especially worrisome as we move into the winter months when more people are assembling indoors with less ventilation, and as we approach the holiday season where many are gathering with loved ones across multiple generations,” Walensky said.

In Georgia, the most recent numbers from the Department of Public Health show the state with at least 6,725 new confirmed cases reported since the previous week. At least 674 people are hospitalized around the state for COVID-19, and 32 people died from the virus over the last week.

CDC health data suggests RSV activity levels may be peaking in some parts of the country, including the Southeast. But Walensky said it’s important to remain vigilant. 

“Respiratory viruses continue to spread at high levels nationwide, and even in areas where RSV may be decreasing, our hospital systems continue to be stretched with high numbers of patients with other respiratory illnesses.”

Georgia’s pediatric hospitals have operated at or near capacity for weeks. 

And since there is no vaccine for RSV, health officials say simple precautions, including washing hands, disinfecting surfaces and staying home when sick can help curb its spread.

The CDC also recommends masking on public transit and when traveling by plane.

The agency is urging everyone to get their vaccinations to prevent serious illness, hospitalization or death from COVID-19 or flu, and for anyone with respiratory symptoms to be tested and seek medical care right away, when antiviral treatments are most effective. 

“It’s so important to get vaccinated for both flu and COVID,” said Internal Medicine physician Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, Board Chair of the American Medical Association. “And you can get both vaccines at the same time. I know everyone’s tired of getting shots. We all have booster fatigue. But understand, you can get really, really sick this year and ruin your holiday celebrations if you don’t get vaccinated.”

Nationally according to the CDC, there have so far been at least 8.7 million flu illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from flu since October. At least 14 pediatric flu deaths have been reported.

See Georgia’s most recent influenza activity at the DPH website.