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How to Protect Yourself From the Fall ‘Tripledemic’ of RSV, COVID, and Influenza 

A new RSV vaccine is just the beginning, says infectious disease expert Eric Simões, MD. 

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Written by Greg Glasgow on September 5, 2023

As a longtime researcher of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Eric Simões, MD, was gratified in August when clinical trials he led at the University of Colorado School of Medicine received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval for Pfizer’s new RSV vaccine for use during late pregnancy.  

The new vaccine, named Abrysvo, can be given to mothers in the third trimester to protect infants against the highly contagious disease.   

“This vaccine has the opportunity to substantially reduce the burden of severe RSV not only in high-income countries, but also in developing countries where it has the potential to reduce significant infant mortality from the disease,” says Simões, clinical professor of infectious diseases in the Department of Pediatrics. “It will also significantly reduce the cost burden of medical visits, hospitalizations, and missed parental workdays.” 

He was also key in the testing of a long-acting monoclonal antibody that can be administered to babies in their first eight months of life at the start of the RSV season that protects them from severe disease.   

Viral load 

However, as the fall season looms, RSV isn’t the only virus people need to be worried about. With COVID-19 numbers on the rise and a potentially worse-than-usual flu season predicted, the U.S. is likely to see a “tripledemic” in which all three viruses are circulating at the same time.  

Fortunately, Simões says, there are vaccines for all three viruses, including a new monovalent vaccine for COVID-19 that protects against the newest strain of the disease. 

“I would advise people to get all three vaccines, particularly if they are older adults,” he says. “What we saw after the first two years of the COVID pandemic was that we had waves of RSV and influenza, because we hadn’t seen those viruses for two years during the pandemic. We had a rebound, and we saw younger children and older children getting admitted to the ICU and getting hospitalized, which is unusual. We also saw a significant bump in RSV hospitalization in older adults.” 

Easier testing 

COVID-19, influenza, and RSV can all create similar cold-like symptoms, Simões says, so it’s important to know which one you have so you can get the right treatment. Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic speeded up testing for other viruses as well.  

“COVID changed things for the better when it comes to testing,” he says. “Children and adults were coming to the hospital, and we couldn’t tell whether they had RSV, influenza, or COVID. So there was a demand for multiple testing of these viruses. Everyone who came into the hospital was tested for COVID, but as the pandemic moved on, and influenza and RSV started reoccurring, we had higher rates of hospitalization from RSV than COVID in children, and it became imperative to understand which person had which virus.” 

COVID-19 and influenza can both be treated, and a treatment for RSV is now in clinical trials, he says. The tests for all three viruses are quick and inexpensive, although only COVID-19 can be tested for at home.  

Simões says it’s also important to consider the person’s age: for babies and infants, RSV is most common; teenagers are the biggest transmitters of influenza; and adults are more likely to be contagious for COVID-19. 

Simões offers these tips for keeping yourself safe from viruses this fall:  

  • Limit the amount of time you mingle with others in public. 
  • Get vaccinated against influenza and COVID-19. If you are an older adult or a pregnant mother, get the RSV vaccine as well. A monoclonal antibody against RSV is also available and can be given to infants. 
  • Carry a mask with you and put it on if you hear someone coughing in your vicinity (in a movie theater or on a bus, for example). 
  • Always wear a mask when flying and turn your seat’s individual air nozzle to its highest setting (plan ahead and wear warmer clothes than you might otherwise). 
  • COVID-19 is also transmitted by saliva, so remain distant from others when you eat if there is increased transmission of the virus in the community. 
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Eric Simões, MD