WORCESTER, Mass. - Medical experts are hoping to avoid what is being dubbed as a "tridemic" this winter. It would occur if the health care system sees a sharp rise in patients battling the flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

What You Need To Know

  • Medical experts are hoping a mix of flu, RSV and COVID-19 cases won't overwhelm the health care system

  • RSV symptoms include fever, runny nose and congestion

  • Dr. Robert Klugman said people are more susceptible to RSV and the flu this year

  • In addition to getting vaccinated, Klugman urged people to be cautious about gathering in large groups

RSV has symptoms very similar to the flu and COVID-19, including fever, runny nose and congestion. Dr. Robert Klugman, an internal medicine doctor with UMass Memorial Health, said it's been spreading in schools and the workplace over recent weeks. 

"Hospitals are bracing, they're already at high capacity and this is going to be very challenging for us all and for clinicians and for families," Klugman said.

For some patients like young children, older adults or the immunocompromised, RSV can potentially develop into more serious conditions like bronchitis or pneumonia. Klugman said over the next few months, there's likely to be an uptick in cases.

"Unfortunately, I think people send their kids to school with sniffles these days so we're seeing a lot of passage there," Klugman said. "My grandkids have already had several upper respiratory infections this school year, fortunately not anything severe but you do have to worry and once they get sick, they cough and sneeze and can spread it to everyone in the family."

This is the first fall season since 2019 in which most people aren't masked up or distancing in schools or the workplace, so Klugman said it's the perfect storm for a so-called 'tridemic'. 

"Because everyone's immunity is down over the last few years, and because we haven't seen much RSV and flu, people are more susceptible now," Klugman said. "The good news is the flu vaccine that's out there looks to be effective based on experience elsewhere. So with vaccination and common sense, I think people can be safe."

In addition to getting vaccinated, Klugman said the best thing people can do is return to the fundamentals of public health they've used to get through these last few years. 

"You can use a mask, you can be careful about distancing, all the common sense things that got us through the last few winters that people aren't too anxious to do any more," Klugman said. "Avoiding crowds and settings where they could expose them self."

Hospitals are also concerned about COVID-19 surges, with omicron subvariants accounting for many of the new cases.