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The Highland Lakes is in the middle of a surge of what health officials are calling a “tripledemic” of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu, and COVID over the holiday break.

“A lot of people have been really sick,” said Burnet County Health Director Dr. Jules Madrigal. “Eighty-five percent of the people we see at the clinic have one of these illnesses.”

The good news is that fewer patients are ending up in the hospital. The bad news is that a higher number of children are being hospitalized because they are more adversely affected by RSV.

“RSV is a cold virus,” Dr. Madrigal continued. “Most adults get it every other year, no big deal. This year, it’s a big deal. And some are getting all three (viruses) at the same time.”

The uptick in RSV and the flu is linked to the past few years of COVID precautions with people wearing masks and keeping socially distant.

“In a normal year, we would be exposed here and there to viruses and build up antibodies,” Madrigal said. “What would normally be a mild cold is now getting really bad because of a lack of exposure.”

The best ways to protect yourself from the flu and RSV are to wash your hands and disinfect surfaces. The two viruses are mostly spread through contaminated surfaces and by air, while the COVID virus is airborne. RSV, unlike the other two, can live on surfaces for up to 18 months.

Practice respiratory etiquette, the experts all said.

“Practice hand hygiene and get a flu vaccine — that’s the number one thing,” said physician assistant Cody Cowan of Hill Country Direct Care in Llano. 

He also recommends staying home if you’ve had contact with someone who has been ill.

Madrigal said anyone with an illness should wear a mask.

Vaccinations are also important, and shots for the new COVID variants, known as the scrabble variants because of the numerous letters and numbers used to identify them, are now available. The bivalent booster provides extra protection against the BQ1.1 and the BQ1 variants, which are offshoots of the BA.5 and rising the fastest, according to doctors at YaleMedicine.org.

“Prevention is good covering (coughs and sneezes), hand washing, and staying home if you are sick,” Madrigal said. “This is just another problem from the pandemic we have to work through.”

suzanne@thepicayune.com

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