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Brace yourself for the 'Tripledemic' | Doctors warn COVID, flu, RSV could surge as weather gets cold

Inova hospitals are moving to emergency operations and children's beds are nearing capacity as respiratory viruses surge.

BETHESDA, Md. — As we head toward Halloween, health experts are sharing a scary new word. They're calling the risk of surging COVID, influenza, and RSV a "tridemic" or "tripledemic."

It's already hit some schools and threatens to again overwhelm hospitals.

"RSV is probably the scariest experience we've had as parents," said Darcy Whelan Slayton, a southern Maryland mom whose 18-month-old son, August, has been hit by a seemingly non-stop wave of respiratory viruses.

"His first week of daycare, he came home sick on Friday of week one. It turned out he had RSV, which turned out to be RSV and the flu and also an ear infection. And it just sort of spreads like wildfire. And every week we're wondering how people do this."

At Stafford High School in Virginia, 1,000 students and staff, nearly half the student body, fell ill with flu-like gastrointestinal symptoms. The school newspaper blamed a homecoming dance that had more than 1,200 students corralled in the lunchroom.

The CDC says "Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults." 

Hospitals across the region say they're crowded with RSV patients.

At Medstar Montgomery Medical Center, Pediatrician Sofia Tefari, MD says the two beds for children are already double-booked. 

"We are very concerned that a lot of these children have not seen the viruses they would have seen in the last couple of years. So we are bracing ourselves for a difficult winter for sure."

Doctors warn COVID, the flu, RSV and other rhino and enteroviruses could all surge in the next few months.

"All three of these viruses are expected to go up as we get into the cold-flu season. As the weather gets colder, people move inside," said Dr. Glenn Wortmann, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Medstar Washington Hospital Center.

Experts say the best way to keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed is to get vaccinated, for the flu and for COVID; if not for yourself, then for the most vulnerable among us, like the second baby Darcy Whelan Slayton is expecting. 

"All I can say is if it was so scary with the 18-month-old, I'm really worried about the new baby getting sick," Whelan Slayton said.

Researchers are currently working on a vaccine for RSV, which may be available next year. "Fingers crossed," said Dr. Tefari.

She said if your child is having trouble breathing and looks like he or she is using their stomach muscles or chest wall to get enough air, you should consult with your pediatrician.

Dr.  Wortmann says that while COVID cases in the area remain low, he is seeing an increase in patients struggling with influenza. He said if you get vaccinated now, you should have a high level of immunity in time for the holiday season.

He also said it's smart to check health data for your community, and if you see increasing cases, stay away from public places and put your mask back on.

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