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Caution key in 'tripledemic' – All three viruses at once is usually a rarity

CODY — A “tripledemic” of influenza, COVID-19 and Respiratory Syncytial Virus is a major concern to Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin, who said there has been an increase in all three respiratory viruses in recent weeks.

Tripledemic is a word coined to describe the phenomenon of all three viruses being present in a community at the same time, which is usually a rarity, he said.

“All respiratory viruses do tend to follow a cycle,” Billin said. “But it’s rare for those cycles to intersect at the same time like they are this year.”

Billin attributed the increase in all three viruses to a lack of observance of many public health safety measures, including washing hands, wearing masks, covering your mouth while coughing and especially staying home when experiencing symptoms of an illness.

“Everybody wants things to be normal, especially after Covid,” Billin said. “So when people have symptoms, they often assume they have a common cold and continue going to work and school like everything’s fine. But what has been happening is that we’ve been diagnosing these people in the emergency room between five and seven days into their illness, which means the virus has been circulating through the community for that entire time.“

Billin said the most common of the three viruses in Park County right now is Influenza A.

“The degree of sickness we’re seeing is about the same compared to previous flu seasons,” he said. “But we’re seeing close to twice the number of cases that we’d see in a normal year.”

Billin said he has also seen “two or three times the normal level” of RSV this year, including a surprisingly large number of cases in adults.

RSV is a common and highly contagious respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms, including runny nose, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus is most typically seen in small children, and can cause asthma-like symptoms for those under the age of five, Billin said. For adults, it is often no worse than a common cold, he said, but that is not the case this year.

“We have two adults over the age of 65 with RSV in Powell right now, who are sick enough to be hospitalized,” Billin said. “That is very uncommon.”

RSV is particularly dangerous for adults over age 65 who are immunocompromised and have chronic heart or lung disease, he said.

COVID-19 also continues to be a concern in the county, Billin said. Across the state, Covid case numbers have increased in recent weeks, he said, although Park County’s transmission risk still remains low, according to the CDC.

As of Jan. 3, there was only one active, lab-confirmed case of Covid in Park County, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Billin previously told the Cody Enterprise that Covid case numbers are often higher than reported as many individuals choose to test at home or not be tested at all.

He said he is expecting a new subvariant of Covid to arrive in Wyoming in the near future. The XX.1.5 variant is much more transmissible than other variants and currently accounts for 40% of Covid cases nationwide, but there is no evidence it is more dangerous, he said,

Billin said he is unaware of any XX.1.5 cases in Wyoming or Park County at this time.

“Due to our rural nature, we are the last to get a lot of these variants in Wyoming,” he said. “But based on what we’re seeing across the nation, it will definitely find its way here eventually.”

All three respiratory viruses are spread in similar ways, including through contaminated surfaces and through sneezing and coughing, Billin said.

Thus, the public health measures recommended at the onset of the Covid pandemic are still encouraged, he said: Wear a mask if you’re in large crowds or you’re immunocompromised. Cover your mouth when coughing. Wash your hands frequently. And most importantly, stay home if you’re experiencing any symptoms.

Receiving flu and Covid vaccines — and the booster shots for the latter — is also recommended and can reduce the spread of those viruses, he said. Currently, there is no vaccine available for RSV.