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Welcome to the tripledemic: How to tell what you have, and what to do next

Welcome to the tripledemic: How to tell what you have, and what to do next

Coughing. Sneezing. Body aches. Sore throat. Runny nose. 

Do you feel caught in a revolving door of yucky symptoms? Is it the flu? The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)? COVID-19? 

Welcome to the "tripledemic" of 2022.  

"We are seeing lots of sick patients because the three viruses are all circulating in South Central Pennsylvania, though RSV cases are declining," said Dr. Mark Goedecker, WellSpan vice president and chief medical officer of primary care. "Add the common cold to the mix and you have a lot of miserable folks out there right now." 

Viruses are circulating widely after a few years of decline, due to the masking, staying at home, and other precautions many people were taking during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The symptoms of the three illnesses overlap somewhat and can look very similar. Any respiratory virus can cause a fever, cough, headache or runny or stuffy nose. Pay attention to how quickly your symptoms worsen and know when to see a clinician for help, Dr. Goedecker says. 

Here is a breakdown of viruses: 

The flu can hit fast and hard – resulting in that "hit by a bus" achy body feeling that sufferers sometimes describe. It often is accompanied by a high fever of up to 103 or 104 degrees. It also can include a very sore throat, a wet cough and congestion. 

COVID-19 may be accompanied by a mild fever or no fever at all. You might have the sniffles and then develop a dry cough or a headache. It also can result in a sudden loss in your senses of taste or smell, which is different from the decreased sense caused by a stuffy nose from the flu or a cold. 

RSV is less likely to result in the body aches and the fatigue of the flu or COVID-19 and fevers are rarer. Its distinguishing characteristic is often a very wet, mucus-y, sharp cough. It results in the most congestion of the three viruses. It can cause shortness of breath, wheezing or a whistling sound on exhalation. RSV is most dangerous to the very young and the very old. 

A common cold takes a few days to develop and the symptoms – cough, congestion, sore throat - are milder. It rarely causes a fever. 

What should a sick person do? 

  • See a clinician immediately for any breathing problems, a persistent high fever, or you are having problems eating or drinking enough fluids. WellSpan offers several options for care. For non-emergency conditions, patients are encouraged to use our convenient, 24/7 online urgent care. Online Urgent Care gives access to board-certified physicians from the comfort of home using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Schedule your appointment by visiting 
  • Stay at home to avoid making others ill, particularly that newborn baby in the family or grandma and grandpa. They can't fight off viruses as well as others. 
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. 
  • Over-the-counter medications can help lessen symptoms. 

What should a worried well person do? 

  • It's not too late to get a flu shot by going here or a COVID-19 shot. If you got your original COVID-19 series, but not the new bivalent booster, it's time to get the booster. 
  • Mask when you are out in public. Wash your hands.