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The “tridemic” and the holidays: How to celebrate safely

A VCU Health infectious disease expert offers advice on how to lower your risk of catching or spreading respiratory illnesses this holiday season.

Family enjoying holiday dinner together With more families traveling, VCU Health experts say it's important to take precautions to ensure everyone has an enjoyable and healthy holiday. (Getty Images)

A version of this story was originally published on Nov. 16, 2022. It was updated on Dec. 6, 2023 with new information. For the latest on respiratory illnesses and other health topics, visit VCU Health News

Over the past few weeks, many experts have been warning about the possibility of a “tridemic” this winter. The term refers to three viruses, specifically COVID-19, influenza (flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), happening around the same time period.

But what does this mean for the upcoming holiday season?

Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., VCU Health’s infectious disease expert, weighs in on some common questions on how to celebrate safely with friends and family.

How do I host or attend holiday gatherings safely?

While it’s impossible to eliminate all risk from your holiday get-togethers, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of catching or spreading illnesses.

The best proven way to prevent yourself from getting severely sick is to get vaccinated and boosted, if eligible. It’s also important to make sure everyone in your family who is old enough to get these shots does so too.

Both COVID-19 and the flu have very effective vaccines. This is also the first year vaccines and medication are available to help to protect against RSV for specific patient populations, but there are distribution delays being experienced nationally. 

I also continue to recommend taking safety steps while attending or hosting holiday events, especially ones that are indoors.

Those steps include:

  • Wear a face mask in public indoor spaces.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Wear a face mask at crowded outdoor events where social distancing is hard to achieve.
  • If you are sick, stay home. 

What precautions should I take when traveling?

If you plan to travel using public transportation, it’s important to understand that you will be exposed to more germs and illnesses. While this shouldn’t keep you from your holiday plans, it’s important to remain vigilant.

When traveling by train, plane or bus:

  • Consider wearing a face mask.
  • Avoid touching shared surfaces such as handrails, elevator buttons, doors, and faucets.
  • Wipe down surfaces or use a sanitary wipe when handling common objects, such as your tray table.
  • Bring plenty of hand sanitizer and wash your hands often.

In addition to your transport vehicle, these rules apply to hotels, home-shares and rentals, as well as public restrooms and rest stops.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about the importance of keeping others healthy. Who should I be most concerned about and how do I make sure they don’t get sick?

Children, older people and immunocompromised patients are at the highest risk of getting severely sick with all COVID-19, the flu and RSV.

Particularly for COVID-19 and flu, infants, those over 65 years old, or people with chronic conditions are at higher risk, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes to name a few. Despite this, COVID-19 and flu can cause young healthy patients to get seriously sick too.

RSV can cause severe disease in particularly babies under 6 months and older adults. 

Aside from the safety measures mentioned above, I also recommend getting tested before you go visit family members who may fall into these different vulnerable or high risk groups. A lot of symptoms between COVID-19, flu and RSV are very similar, so the only way to know if you have one of those illnesses is to go get tested.

Is there anything else that we should consider?

While we all want to have big holiday celebrations, it’s important to be mindful that there are some very serious illnesses out there and that we must continue to take precautions.
If you are sick, stay at home. Let’s each do our part to remain healthy so that we can enjoy the holidays together.