Several medical experts and public health officials have expressed increasing concern that a surge in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is overlapping with an increase in COVID-19 transmission and an “earlier than usual” flu season. This is raising warnings that a "tripledemic" of respiratory illness may emerge this winter according to Dr. Michelle Jowdy, a board-certified pediatrician at Riverside Family Medicine & Pediatrics Brentwood.

What is Tripledemic?

The term “tripledemic” describes three different respiratory viruses.

  • RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)
  • Influenza (Flu)
  • COVID-19

Medical experts are concerned that all three of these viruses will occur at once this winter, because RSV and flu has already overwhelmed some hospitals and medical centers in certain parts of the U.S.

Understanding the Three Viruses

According to public health experts at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV, flu, and COVID-19 are caused by different types of viruses. However, there are many similarities between the three viruses. All three of these viruses:

  • Have common symptoms
  • Affect a person’s respiratory system
  • Are contagious
  • May cause mild to severe illness

According to CDC, the common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share include:Fever or feeling feverish/having chills

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (more frequent in children with flu, but can occur in any age with COVID-19)
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with COVID-19.

Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with COVID-19.

What Is the Difference Between Flu, COVID-19, and RSV?

Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. 

  • Influenza, commonly known as flu, is an acute respiratory disease caused by infection with influenza viruses. 
  • COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) first identified in 2019.RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. 

According to CDC, COVID-19 spreads more easily than flu. In addition:

  • COVID-19 can cause more severe illness in some people compared with flu.
  • Compared with flu, people infected with COVID-19 may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for longer periods of time.
  • RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. It is also the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 year of age.

How Can I Protect Myself from Getting These Viruses?

Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself from getting COVID-19, flu, and RSV says Dr. Jowdy.

Flu Prevention Tips

Public health experts suggest getting a flu shot, because the vaccine is extremely effective in lessening the symptoms of flu. Get vaccinated as soon as flu shots are available. 

You can also take effective preventive actions to stop the spread of germs. If you do get the flu, take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

COVID-19 Prevention Tips

Getting vaccinated with the current bivalent booster which is targeted to Omicron subvariants can help prevent the most severe COVID-19 sickness, according to Dr. Jowdy.

RSV Prevention Tips

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends these tips for preventing RSV: 

  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, mobile phones, and devices.

Riverside Vaccines

If you need a vaccine, please contact your Riverside primary care provider, schedule through your MyChart account or call 757-534-5050, says Dr. Jowdy.


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