You and your health

The serious trifecta this winter

COVID-19, RSV and influenza

Posted 11/30/22

The coming months promise to be difficult for many of us when it comes to trying to stay healthy.

A number of conditions occur in higher frequencies during the winter period. (See sidebar, page …

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You and your health

The serious trifecta this winter

COVID-19, RSV and influenza


The coming months promise to be difficult for many of us when it comes to trying to stay healthy.

A number of conditions occur in higher frequencies during the winter period. (See sidebar.)  Because of the major disruption to our lives for two-plus years, due to COVID-19, our normal exposure to non-COVID diseases was also disrupted, and most of us have experienced an immunity gap.

Federal health officials warned in November that they are seeing increased levels of other viruses. Other diseases are roaring back as pre-pandemic life returns, and many Americans, particularly children, lack immunity.

The CDC reported that at least 4,300 patients were admitted to the hospital in October. This is the earliest start of the winter-virus season seen in the U.S. in the last decade.

For American hospitals that endured two consecutive winters crushed by COVID-19 admissions, these coming months promise to see another time of increased admissions, but from three fronts. However this year, we have the advantage of having effective vaccines for COVID-19 and the flu.

We—especially children—build our immunity to viruses from exposures from family members, peers, workplaces and from being in public spaces. Infants gain passive immunity to a number of viral illnesses for a short time from their mothers after birth. Later this is reinforced by vaccinations (e.g., mumps, measles, rubella, etc.), or immunity is built up by contracting the actual infection.

This year, the incidence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has mushroomed nationwide, because your children, having been homebound from school for more than two years, did not build any immunity to RSV and other common viruses that normally circulate around daycare centers and schools. Additionally, masking did prevent exposure to common respiratory illnesses, especially influenza, for children and adults. We are more vulnerable this coming winter.  

RSV not only causes disease in young children but also in immune-compromised older adults. There is no vaccine available for this infection at the present time.

The COVID virus has changed from the original very virulent virus (e.g. Delta) to a more contagious but less deadly virus. The current SARS virus continues to change, so we can expect the need for more focused “booster” shots.

Another important fact about preventing COVID infection is that the immunity from injections or getting infected is short-lived and requires periodic bolstering.

Influenza is a common and potentially deadly winter illness that can either be prevented or modified by vaccination. Influenza infections reached a very low point during the COVID restrictions and masking period. But this year, doctors and hospitals in the southern and mid-Atlantic states are seeing an increase in influenza. Fortunately, this year’s flu vaccine appears to be fairly protective.

RSV, flu and COVID have very similar presentations. This includes fevers, chills, headaches, muscle soreness, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, runny nose and sore throat.

A symptom that is unique to COVID-19 is the loss of taste and smell.

Differentiating this trifecta of infections fortunately can be aided by the COVID-19, flu and RSV combined test, which your doctor can prescribe. Each of these infections has various antiviral treatments that can assist in shortening the duration of symptoms.

Protecting the high-risk individual in our lives

Most of us come in contact with immune-compromised individuals on a daily basis. They could be children younger than two years of age, adults over the age of 65, persons with chronic conditions, persons with immune suppression from medication or by HIV infection, pregnant or postpartum women, American Indians/Alaska natives, extremely obese individuals and residents of nursing home and chronic care facilities. We need to help protect family, friends and workmates that we encounter by following these recommendations, which will sound very familiar.

Wash your hands frequently during the day.

Disinfect surfaces, counters and phones that are used by multiple people at home or work.

Sneeze or cough into a tissue or elbow rather than your hands.

Eat healthily.

Wear a mask when you are ill, and stay home if ill.  

Get vaccinated and boosted for influenza and COVID. There might be a vaccine for RSV next year.

If you become ill, make sure you monitor your temperature and keep yourself hydrated. If your symptoms progress rapidly, contact your doctor or urgent care center for advice.

winter-virus season, COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, influenza


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