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CDC updates the status of the 'tripledemic'


Top U.S. health officials today warned that three dangerous respiratory viruses are all spreading widely now, threatening to disrupt the holiday season. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the story.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Health officials have been warning for months that the nation could be facing a tripledemic this winter with RSV, the flu and COVID all hitting at the same time. It started with RSV, which came roaring back unusually early this year, hitting babies and other young children hard. Then the flu started spreading early too, making even more kids and their parents and grandparents sick. And now, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters at a briefing that this year's influenza season is well underway with the flu spreading fast in at least 47 jurisdictions.


ROCHELLE WALENSKY: There has already been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from flu.

STEIN: Including at least 14 children who have already died from the flu this year. Hospitalizations from the flu are the highest they've been this time of year in a decade. And now, a new COVID surge appears to be erupting, throwing the third element of a dangerous respiratory trifecta into the mix. After percolating at a high plateau for months, the number of people catching COVID and getting so sick that they're ending up in a hospital has started rising again.


WALENSKY: In the past week, we have started to see the unfortunate and expected rise of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationally after the Thanksgiving holiday. This rise in cases and hospitalizations is especially worrisome as we move into the winter months when more people are assembling indoors with less ventilation and as we approach the holiday season where many are gathering with loved ones across multiple generations.

STEIN: The fear is that the nation's beleaguered hospitals could get overwhelmed yet again.


WALENSKY: We now face yet another surge of illness, another moment of overstretched capacity and, really, one of tragic and often preventable sadness.

STEIN: Now, there are signs that RSV may have peaked in some parts of the country, such as the South and Southeast, and may be leveling off in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwest. But Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association fears many family gatherings could turn into superspreader events for all three viruses.

SANDRA FRYHOFER: Flu's here. It started early, and with COVID and RSV also circulating, it's a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season.

STEIN: So Walensky and Fryhofer are urging people to do whatever they can to prevent all three viruses from spreading. That includes washing hands, wearing masks, especially around babies, older people and other people prone to serious complications. They say it's not too late to get a flu shot and one of the new bivalent omicron boosters.

FRYHOFER: Stay home when you're sick. Share your love by not sharing your sickness. This holiday season, please get vaccinated. It's the best way to protect yourself. It's the best way to protect your loved ones. And it's the best way to protect your community.

STEIN: This year's flu vaccine appears to be a good match for the most common strains that are spreading. And while it remains unclear how much better the new boosters are than the original vaccine, the shots should at least temporarily help bolster people's fading immunity. Rob Stein, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.