‘Not viruses to mess around with’: Experts urge caution during ongoing ‘tripledemic’

Jan 11, 2024, 6:30 PM | Updated: Jan 12, 2024, 7:29 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake resident Joseph Jarvis started feeling sick just before Thanksgiving.

“The initial (symptom) was a headache, and then just really exhausted,” he said.

He tested positive for COVID-19 and was in isolation for the holiday. A few days later, with the help of antiviral medication Paxlovid, he was resuming normal activities. But then his symptoms returned.

“I contacted my primary care physician and said, ‘You know, this is crazy. Maybe it’s something else.’ And they said, ‘No, test again.’ And I was positive again. And then I was informed about rebound COVID.”

A public health consultant, Jarvis is acutely aware of the dangers of this tripledemic.

“My mother had COVID and almost died,” he said. “She’s had a very long, protracted recovery from it with a long-term need for oxygen. So, when she got the flu recently, it was a really serious problem. She had to be hospitalized again for that. These are not viruses to mess around with.”

Jarvis and his mother are just two of the millions of COVID-19 infections in the past few years. Experts say though not as severe as last year, this winter we’re seeing another “tripledemic” – rising cases of COVID-19, flu and RSV in Utah.

“Our ICUs are pretty full. We’re having to double-bunk patients,” said Dr. Per Gesteland, a pediatric hospitalist with University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.

Gesteland said hospitals around the state are experiencing high volumes of sick patients, which goes to show that these viruses don’t pick and choose their victims.

“They don’t discriminate,” he said. “The healthy, the frail, we can all get it.”

While there are helpful preventative measures like washing hands, keeping your distance when you’re sick, and wearing a mask when in big groups, Gesteland said vaccination is really the best form of protection.

“These vaccines have been studied extensively and are effective and safe,” he said. “If we all got on board and got immunized, we could make a big dent in this big burden of disease that’s affecting our community right now.”

Now, while these shots don’t guarantee immunity from illness, they do significantly decrease the risk of serious illness or death, which is why Jarvis believes his bouts of COVID-19 were survivable.

“I wouldn’t be taking these vaccines if I thought they were a risk,” he said. “The upside to vaccines are so big and so great, to not give them to your children, to not take advantage of them for yourself, that’s just foolish in my opinion.”

And though there’s no cure for this tripledemic, Gesteland said we can help slow the spread by working together. “The collective humanity that we have can make a difference by changing their behaviors,” he said.

For reliable information on the tripledemic, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s or the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ website. Intermountain Health also has an online tool called “Germ Watch” to help educate the public about illnesses spreading in the community.

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‘Not viruses to mess around with’: Experts urge caution during ongoing ‘tripledemic’