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

Dr. Gonzalo Bearman offers advice on how to lower your risk of catching or spreading illnesses this holiday season.

Family enjoying holiday dinner together (Getty Images)

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?

Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, 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 most important thing you can do is get vaccinated and boosted (if eligible). Both COVID-19 and the flu have very effective vaccines.  It’s also important to make sure everyone in your family who is old enough to be vaccinated and boosted does so also. (The most updated information on vaccinations can be found here for COVID-19 and here for the flu.)

While there is not yet a vaccine yet to prevent RSV infection, scientists are working hard to develop one. And there is a medicine that can help protect some babies at high risk for severe RSV disease.

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.
  • Maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet in these spaces.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Wear a face mask at crowded outdoor events where social distancing is hard to achieve.

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. In addition to making sure that you are vaccinated and boosted, I recommend the following:

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 the elderly.

To keep them healthy, make sure you are vaccinated and continue to use the safety measures mentioned above.

I also recommend getting tested before you go visit them. 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 get back to our pre-pandemic 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. If you aren't vaccinated, get vaccinated. Let’s each do our part to remain healthy so that we can enjoy the holidays together.