Specialty care, advance planning help to meet challenges of flu, COVID, and RSV ‘tripledemic’


Stephen Parodi, MD, associate executive director of The Permanente Medical Group, said in a recent interview with CNN International that hospitals in Northern California once again are overflowing with patients — this time due to a “tripledemic” that is essentially a collision of 3 viruses: flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV causes respiratory tract infections and can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

“This is the busiest we’ve ever been, and that includes the COVID pandemic, it includes the omicron surge,” Dr. Parodi said. “We have hospitals that are busting at the seams.”

The number of flu cases has increased a month earlier than usual in the United States and, he added, “we predict that we’ll see even more flu activity in December and January.”

Kaiser Permanente had prepared for a potential influx of patients this winter flu season thanks to “a lot of advanced planning and the hiring of thousands of nurses in the wake of the COVID pandemic,” Dr. Parodi said. The advanced planning involved working with a multidisciplinary team that includes specialists, operations managers, nurse teams, and other health professionals. “On top of that, we had done a lot of planning around additional beds, using hallways if necessary, and we have actually opened up tents again just as we did with prior surges.”

One reason for the spike in hospitalizations, Dr. Parodi said, is that fewer people are vaccinated for either the flu, COVID, or both. He added that there’s still time for people to get the flu shot. “It is not too late.”

Medical excellence: Read more about how Permanente physicians deliver specialized care

Another reason for the increase in illnesses is a change in societal behavior. “The last couple of years, we were masking up, we were isolating,” Dr. Parodi said. “And, of course, society has opened up over the last several months. A lot of those viruses that we typically were exposed to, flu and RSV, are now back and a lot of us were not exposed and don’t have as much natural immunity from the prior years, so we’re seeing increased activity.”

While people can find information about the flu, COVID-19, and RSV online, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and the websites of health care providers, Dr. Parodi urged people to seek in-person care when they need it.

“If you’re feeling short of breath or if you’re having trouble with a cough, a fever not controlled with over-the-counter remedies, you should be seeking care in your emergency rooms,” he said.

He also urged people to wash their hands, cover their cough, avoid congregating indoors, and if they are sick, avoid going to school or work. People at high risk, such as the immunocompromised, should think about wearing a mask when venturing outdoors.

“Prevention is still key here,” Dr. Parodi said.

Watch the interview with CNN International above.

Related story: “Permanente infectious disease specialists power COVID-19 response”