Potential “Tripledemic" as RSV Spikes Early in Arizona

Talk of a potential “tripledemic” - where influenza, COVID-19, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are all circulating at the same time - has been sweeping the news media and could overwhelm healthcare systems amid the holiday season.

While most people who are infected will recover, these three diseases can cause significant respiratory illness, hospitalization, and even death in those with underlying conditions or risk factors.

RSV doesn’t usually get as much attention as COVID-19 or influenza, but this year is different. We are seeing a significant increase in the number of RSV cases in Arizona this season, particularly in children. This spike is also coming much earlier than we usually see our peak, which is normally in February.

Fast facts from the Arizona Department of Health Services:

  • Since Oct. 2, there have been 1,610 cases of RSV reported in Arizona. This is significantly higher than the five-year average of 239 cases reported within this same timeframe.
  • The highest number of cases have occurred among those 1 to 4 years old.
  • Approximately 70% of total RSV cases reported so far this 2022-2023 season were in Maricopa County.

Why are we seeing a spike? Health professionals are pointing to a lack of exposure. For the past two years, kids have not been as exposed to illnesses because of pandemic precautions, making them more susceptible to viruses currently circulating. While RSV can affect all ages, children in school typically pass viruses back and forth in the fall and winter seasons and can infect members of their families.

Symptoms

People with RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after being infected. Symptoms of RSV infection commonly include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

Treatment

Most RSV infections will go away on their own in a week or two. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no specific treatment for RSV, but researchers are currently working to develop vaccines and medicines that fight the virus. Fever and discomfort from RSV can be treated with over-the-counter medication, but - as a reminder - never give aspirin to children. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best course of action. To prevent dehydration, it is also important for people with the RSV infection to stay hydrated.

Protection

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from getting or spreading RSV and other respiratory illnesses, including:

  • Covering your cough
  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water
  • Avoiding close contact with others, especially if they are sick
  • Staying home when you are sick

Infants and children under the age of two with chronic lung or heart conditions, children with weakened immune systems, and children with neuromuscular disorders are at higher risk for severe RSV disease. Special care should be taken around young children, under the age of two, if adults or older children have cold-like symptoms.

While, again, there is no vaccine for RSV, there is a drug called palivizumab that can prevent severe RSV illness in certain infants and children who are at high risk for severe disease.

RSV can also be dangerous for certain adults like those 65 and older, adults with chronic heart or lung disease, and adults with weakened immune systems. Prevention and protection are key to keeping our community healthy.

To learn more, visit: Preventing RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) | CDC

Disclaimer

This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.