6 Science-Based Ways To Sidestep the ‘Tripledemic’ This Season

6 Science-Based Ways To Sidestep the ‘Tripledemic’ This Season

How basic prevention and protection can help you avoid RSV, influenza, COVID-19 and the common cold
Sick child blowing nose

'Tis the season to be cautious: Health officials worldwide fear a possible "tripledemic" this winter as coronavirus variants and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections surge alongside the usual seasonal cases of influenza and the common cold.

People of all ages are getting sick in high numbers this season, but families with kids are particularly at risk, both from a health perspective as well as on the financial front.

The hidden cost of the tripledemic

Any illness can be risky for young children, but RSV can be especially dangerous: 1 in every 56 infants infected before age 1 requires hospital care, according to The Lancet Respiratory Medicine medical journal. While most children in the United States get RSV at least once before age 2, children’s hospitals nationwide have seen a heightened number of cases this fall, possibly because so many were sheltered from common infections during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Not only is it heartbreaking for parents to watch a sick child suffer, it can also be costly. A typical hospital stay costs approximately 504 hours’ worth of work at the national average hourly rate of $26.22, according to a study conducted by ValuePenguin.

Working parents also have to find a balancing act between financial and medical concerns: Even if a hospital stay isn’t required, many children cannot continue attending school or day care while sick, resulting in an unprecedented number of professionals who took work leave in October 2022, citing a lack of child care. Finally, illness in the family can equal financial setbacks for the 33 million U.S. workers who don’t have access to guaranteed sick leave, since time spent at home will be unpaid.

So what can you do about staying healthy this season? Here are six science-backed ideas that are simple and effective.

1. Get vaccinated

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting vaccinated each year is the "single best way to reduce the risk of seasonal flu," and the vaccines developed for the coronavirus have proven to protect most people from getting seriously ill.

Under the Affordable Care Act, vaccines should be covered by your health insurance without costing any additional fees or co-insurance. However, read the fine print in your policy: Everyone’s coverage is different, and your insurer may require you to receive the vaccine from a specific facility, doctor or location in order to qualify for free shots.

If you are enrolled in Medicare, your flu shot is free. Some pharmacies, local health centers or other medical facilities in your area may also offer free COVID-19 and flu shots.

2. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze

Where germs are involved, sharing is not caring: Those childhood etiquette lessons still apply today, with more than politeness on the line. Most respiratory illnesses are spread through germ-laden droplets expelled into the air from coughing and sneezing, and thwarting these at the source will go a long way toward keeping your cooties away from everyone else.

3. Wear a mask

We know, we know: We’re all tired of masks too, but they’ve been proven to drastically lower the spread of respiratory disease when worn consistently. So even if you don’t mask up all the time, consider wearing one in public: Even a simple cloth face mask can lower your risk of getting coronavirus, for example, by more than 50%, and a respirator mask such as the N95 can decrease your odds by 83%.

4. Wash your hands

Did you know that, on average, people unintentionally touch their faces more than 20 times per hour? During sick season in particular, washing your hands is another crucial part of staying healthy as possible, not just from respiratory illnesses but from stomach bugs and various other nasty diseases that spread when you touch your mouth or nose after coming in contact with a contaminated surface.

Fortunately, good ol' soap and water goes a long way toward eliminating that risk, as long as you wash your hands correctly. Not entirely sure how to wash them the right way? No shame in that: Here’s a detailed guide, straight from the experts at the CDC.

5. Disinfect common surfaces

Remember that door knob, key, cell phone, pen or countertop you touch every day? We don’t really either; most of us don’t think about the surfaces and objects we repeatedly touch or use on a daily basis. But these high-traffic spots are hotbeds for germ transmission, warns the CDC, especially since we all touch our faces more often than we think we do — especially if you hold your cellphone up to your ear and cheek when you make phone calls.

Fortunately, we can neutralize the vast majority of our risk of exposure by regularly cleaning and disinfecting these common areas. Many cleaning products include disinfectants these days, and you can always check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list to be sure.

6. Stay home if you don’t feel well

We get it: For many of us, it’s the busiest time of the year. Whether you’re juggling end-of-year work deadlines, final exams, holiday preparations or just everyday life, the idea of taking a day off can seem nearly impossible. But if you’re coughing, sneezing, running a fever or otherwise feeling unhealthy, you can end up passing your illness on to other people you interact with.

Research has shown that people are the most contagious within the first four to five days of the onset of flu and COVID-19 symptoms, and can be contagious for up to eight or more days after exposure to RSV. So if you can, isolate away from others as soon as you or your family members show signs of illness.

It might seem inevitable that people in your household will get sick if you do, but that doesn’t have to be the case, even if you can’t keep away from them altogether. Washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and disinfecting common surfaces will go a long way toward minimizing their risks.