Health & Wellness
What a 'Tripeldemic' Means to Your Body
Posted: December 13, 2022
Hoe many times will I get sick this winter?…
Editor's Note: As we move into another winter with COVID—which officially remains a global pandemic despite the growing belief in many circles that it has become endemic—we now hear medical professionals who warn us of a "tripledemic" (COVID, seasonal flu and RSV). Is this an unnecessary scare that we can ignore, or something to take seriously>? Earlier in November, Jacob Stern wrote about this in The Atlantic in "What a 'Tripledemic' Means for Your Body." Following is an excerpt of that article, with a link to the full article at the bottom of the page, which will also lead you to additional resources.
n 2020, and again in 2021, the dreaded twindemic never came. The worry among experts was that a winter COVID surge layered on top of flu season—or even, in worst-case scenarios, a flu outbreak of pandemic proportions—would push already strained hospitals to the brink. Thankfully, we got lucky. Flu season simply didn’t materialize in 2020: The United States recorded onlycases, a jaw-dropping 110 times fewer than it had the season prior. Similar trends held for other respiratory viruses. In 2021, were way up from 2020, but still way down from typical pre-pandemic years.
Now our luck seems finally to have run out. Flu season has only just begun, and already the U.S. has recorded an explosion of cases. A massive wave of RSV is hitting the country, along with smaller parallel surges in rhinovirus and enterovirus. The result of all this is what my colleague Katherine J. Wu has “the worst pediatric-care crisis in decades.” Meanwhile, COVID cases and hospitalizations remain low around the country relative to earlier stages of the pandemic, but the coronavirus continues to kill about 350 Americans daily. The worry now is not a twindemic but a “ .”
What this means for you is that your body is likely to encounter multiple different virological foes this season—perhaps even at the same time. When you board a plane, or see a show, or eat out, you’re facing a more varied swirl of viruses than in recent years. How should you expect your body to cope?
Before delving into immunological arcana, it’s worth making one thing perfectly clear, at the risk of stating the obvious: Having a cold will not protect you from COVID. COVID will not protect you from the flu. Nor the flu from RSV. Different viruses penetrate the body’s defenses in different ways, and unfortunately, as impressive as our immune system is, it doesn’t have some universal ability to fend off all seasonal pathogens simply because it detects one. The same goes for vaccinations. A flu vaccine will not inoculate you against COVID, and a COVID vaccine will not inoculate you against flu; defending against both viruses requires both vaccines.
[See the full article for Stern's dive into the "immunilogical arena"]
When the body happens to strike upon a near-perfect match between parts of two viruses that otherwise aren’t all that similar, she said, it’s “like winning the lottery.” Unless you like those odds, you probably shouldn’t bank on cross-reactive immunity bailing you out this flu season. Instead, the reality is that you’re more likely to get sick with multiple different things this winter than you were in either the last one or the one before.. Your immunological superpowers can only offer so much protection.
is a staff writer at The Atlantic.
and see additional resources at The Atlantic