Dec. 14, 2022 – This time last year, the hunt was on for at-home COVID-19 test kits, which for many became the golden ticket to attend holiday gatherings. This year, a tripledemic is raging, with threats from COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
Considering the circulating viruses, medical experts recommend doing your own risk assessment based on your holiday plans and the people impacted by them.
"Everyone is obviously ready to do as much as they can that they have done in normal holiday periods, especially as many of us have given it up for a couple years," Emory University epidemiologist and healthy travel expert Henry Wu, MD, told NPR. "We're entering a new normal, where we have to navigate how best to do what we want to do."
As people look at their disease risks before the holidays, experts say to ask:
- How willing am I to get sick?
- What risks are there for other guests who will be at the gathering? Are they elderly, an infant, or someone who's immunocompromised, putting them at high risk of becoming dangerously sick?
- Is seeing certain people or attending certain events a priority for me?
Limiting the number of gatherings or travel is one way to manage risk, as is testing for COVID-19 in advance, Wu said.
"Every family and every individual is going to be a little different," he said. "If you would like to do as much as you can to avoid getting sick when you're getting together, if you want to protect the vulnerable person, whether they're elderly or an infant, then definitely incorporate some of the lessons from the last few years.”
Data shows that the tripledemic is in full swing. Among people getting tested for the flu, 1 in 4 are positive, and nearly 26,000 are being hospitalized weekly.
On the RSV front, there are positive signs. Weekly case counts of RSV have dropped by more than half in the past week, according to CDC data.
Nearly 80% of hospital beds nationwide are full, a federal tracker shows. Of those, 6% are in use for COVID-19, a drastic change from the previous 2 years when the coronavirus was the singular topic of holiday health talk.
Still, health officials say COVID-19 is not to be underestimated. Case counts, deaths, and hospitalizations are surging post-Thanksgiving.
Look Out for a Sore Throat
Newly published data now shows the top-reported COVID-19 symptom is a sore throat. Once a telltale sign of COVID, loss of taste has entirely fallen off the top 10 reported symptoms list, while loss of sense of smell has fallen to tenth place. Fever is also notably absent from the results, published by the U.K.’s Zoe Health Study, which is an app-based crowd-sourced symptom tracker.
Study authors say the change in common symptoms comes from the rise of new virus variants.
Here are the most commonly reported COVID-19 symptoms, in order of how common they were, for the month prior to Dec. 5:
- A sore throat
- A runny nose
- A blocked nose
- A cough without phlegm
- A headache
- A cough with phlegm
- A hoarse voice
- Muscle aches and pains
- An altered sense of smell
The CDC says COVID-19 symptoms appear 2 to 14 days after exposure. People who have symptoms should test for COVID-19. The agency also warns that some COVID-19 symptoms are the same as flu symptoms, and it’s best to talk to a health care provider about being tested for both viruses.