Several popular social media accounts are promoting the idea that mask mandates and other COVID-19 protections are responsible for the “tripledemic,” the current wave of flu, COVID-19, and RSV infections that are overwhelming U.S. hospitals. One post claims that wearing masks weakened children’s immune systems by preventing exposure to germs, making them more susceptible to
Frequently Asked Questions about Tripledemic
The “tripledemic” is a term that some public health leaders and the news media are using to describe the current spread of three respiratory illnesses: COVID-19, flu (influenza), and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).
COVID-19, flu, and RSV cases and hospitalizations are spiking in many parts of the country. Each virus can pose a serious health threat, especially for older people and people with underlying health conditions. RSV and flu are also serious concerns for young children.
Most cases of COVID-19, flu, and RSV are mild, but as millions of people are getting sick, the number of people with serious illness is also rising. The “tripledemic” is placing pressure on hospitals and health care facilities, and it is already straining the capacity and resources of many pediatric hospitals.
“Tripledemic” does not have a scientific definition, like “epidemic” or “pandemic.” It is an informal term used to convey the significance of the current spread of COVID-19, flu, and RSV.
There are many precautions that can help you stay healthy and reduce your chances of getting sick with or spreading COVID-19, flu, or RSV. Here are a few of the most important and effective measures:
- Get vaccinated and boosted. You should get a flu shot if you haven’t already this year, and stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccinations with an updated booster dose. Everyone ages 6 months and older is eligible to get vaccinated against flu and COVID-19. There is not currently a vaccine to prevent RSV.
- Wear a mask. Wearing a high-quality, well-fitting mask is an effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and data show it also likely reduces the transmission of other respiratory illnesses like RSV and flu. These viruses spread from person to person via respiratory droplets, so properly wearing a high-quality mask helps prevent the spread of the virus to others, and it also helps protect the mask-wearer. The CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask indoors where COVID-19 Community Level is high, though anyone may choose to wear a mask to protect themselves and others, regardless of community level.
- Stay home if you’re sick. If you’re feeling sick, you should stay home and away from others. You should also test for COVID-19. While there isn’t an at-home test for flu or RSV, at-home antigen COVID-19 tests are effective and reliable when used properly.
- Wash your hands. Washing your hands is a simple and important way to prevent the spread of viruses like RSV, flu, and COVID-19. Read more from the CDC about how and when to wash your hands.
- Contact your health care provider. Consult your health care provider if you have questions about testing and treatment, especially if you or your child are at high risk for complications from flu, RSV, or COVID-19. There are effective treatments for both COVID-19 and flu, but both need to be started early in the course of illness to be effective. And your health care provider can help you manage symptoms of RSV if you or your child are sick.
With COVID-19, flu, and RSV cases and hospitalizations spiking in many parts of the country, some public health officials are revisiting mask guidance and are again recommending mask wearing, particularly in indoor public spaces.
Data show that high-quality, well-fitting masks are effective at reducing the transmission of COVID-19. Studies also show that high-quality, well-fitting masks are likely effective at reducing the transmission of flu and RSV. Scientists continue to study the use of masks, including what kinds of masks work best and which viruses can be prevented from spreading by wearing masks.
When making mask recommendations, local public health authorities typically consider transmission rates of COVID-19, flu, and RSV, along with hospitalizations and hospital capacity. The CDC continues to recommend that you should wear a mask indoors if your COVID-19 Community Level is high. If your COVID-19 Community Level is medium, you should consider wearing a mask if you’re at high risk for severe COVID-19.
Regardless of COVID-19 Community Level or current local mask guidance, anyone can wear a mask as an additional precaution to protect themselves and their families from respiratory infections during the holiday season.