Pima County’s “tripledemic” is getting worse just in time for Thanksgiving

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 9:10 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The “tripledemic” is in full swing in Pima County. Three respiratory diseases have converged, not just in Pima County, but statewide.

RSV cases are ten times higher than normal, the flu season started much earlier and cases are nearly doubling every week and COVID-19 cases have increased here by 61% in the past week alone.

“Both flu and RSV hit us hard and fast this year,” said David Salafsky, the Co-Executive Director of Campus Health at the University of Arizona. “And I think that’s what you’re seeing in the data.”

COVID-19 is still in the green zone in Pima County, meaning it’s considered mild. But that will likely change in the coming days. Only three counties are still in green statewide.

“Since COVID has been around, we haven’t seen three major respiratory viruses circulating and causing a lot of disease at the same time,” said Matthew Christenberry, an epidemiologist at the Pima County Health Department. “So these next couple of months are going to be really important to assess because we are starting to seen an increase in these cases.”

It’s likely the number of cases has been smaller for the past two years because people were wearing masks and social distancing because of COVID-19, which is why, to protect against the rapid spread of respiratory diseases, it’s probably a good idea to mask up again. But it’s still a choice.

“I think masks are kind of associated with COVID but masks are good for preventing any kind of upper respiratory infection,” Salafsky said. “It’s a good idea not only if you’re sick but if you want to stop the spread within your household.”

With Thanksgiving being one of the busiest travel holidays of the year, the chances of respiratory illnesses being widespread are very high. Which is why precautions, are a very good idea through the holiday season.

“Wearing a well-fitting mask for example, so wearing an N-95 or KN-95 or wearing a surgical mask is going to be a way you can protect yourself from being exposed to a virus on an airplane,” Christenberry said.

Getting sick with RSV can be especially dangerous for young children, some will likely end up in the hospital. The flu can make someone very ill for three or four days and does kill. COVID-19 can linger for weeks or months in the form of long COVID.

“It means we’re seeing an increase in those people who are sick enough to be admitted to the hospital or admitted to the ICU,” Christenberry said. “So, it does start to become concerning where we see those numbers and what kind of strain it can put on the medical system.”

So the experts say wear a mask indoors, wash hands, stay home where you’re sick, maintain distance and of course take the shot.

“The best time to get vaccinated was two weeks ago,” said Salafsky. “The next best time would be right now.”

It takes the body a little time to develop those antibodies meaning the the best advice is to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Nothing guarantees you won’t get sick but getting a shot means you won’t be as sick.