St. John’s Expert Warns of Triple Threat Posed by Winter Viruses

Coronavirus floating against navy background
December 20, 2022
Yumi Lee, Pharm.D.

Common-sense preventative measures could ease the triple threat of COVID-19, influenza, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) this winter, according to Yumi Lee, Pharm.D., Associate Clinical Professor at St. John’s University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.   

According to Dr. Lee, an infectious disease specialist, the New York City Department of Health’s recently issued indoor mask recommendation is a reminder of the continued threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic at a time when other seasonal viruses are also spiking.  

“There are multiple things we are dealing with right now,” Dr. Lee said. “The numbers of all three conditions are growing. We saw RSV earlier this year, and then the flu emerged—and, of course, we still have the common cold and COVID.”

As a clinical specialist in infectious diseases at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, NY, and a longtime member of St. John’s faculty, Dr. Lee is not surprised by the emergence of what some health-care professionals are calling the “triple-demic.”

As COVID cases inch up, the respiratory condition RSV—which can send young children to emergency rooms with breathing trouble—is also spiking. New York City’s Department of Health has reported an increase in RSV cases each week since mid-September, with a record number of city children hospitalized with the virus in November.

Meanwhile, the New York State Department of Health is reporting 30,000 more flu cases this year than at the same time in 2021, with cases skyrocketing at the highest rate in years.   

Ironically, three things are behind the “triple-demic,” according to Dr. Lee. “We have laxed on mask wearing,” she said. “As far as social distancing, we are not staying home like we were. We are gathering again.”

“But it’s also our third year of the COVID pandemic,” Dr. Lee continued. “We’ve spent a good deal of that time by ourselves and not exposed to the flu, the common cold, or RSV. We have lost some of the natural immunity we had to those conditions.”

So, with the holiday season in full swing, how should members of the St. John’s community and others guard against the “triple-demic?” A return to indoor masking along the lines of the Department of Health’s new guidelines is a start, Dr. Lee said.

It is also prudent to remain current on vaccinations for COVID-19 and the flu. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent RSV. Dr. Lee also recommends avoiding the office if you feel symptomatic. 

“We know masking works for COVID,” she said, “but it also prevents the spread of flu and other viruses. The new masking recommendations are super helpful.”

“If you plan to gather for the holidays, maybe take a COVID test,” Dr. Lee continued. “It’s an extra layer of security for everyone. A big key is getting vaccinated for the flu and getting the new COVID booster. And, remember to educate yourself: It’s not that you won’t get the flu if you get vaccinated, but it prevents severe illness and hospitalization.”