Parents just cannot catch a break. Right now, we’re experiencing something unprecedented, what doctors are calling the “tripledemic”:  RSV, flu, and Covid. These outbreaks have parents extremely concerned, and with the holidays looming, they’re asking how can we keep everyone protected? Below are some guidelines and information.

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a common-cold virus that can result in severe complications in young children, particularly babies. Symptoms include chest congestion, cough, and fever. Children under two years can experience difficulty breathing and a drop in blood oxygen. 

The CDC says the virus has been on the rise over the last few weeks, and reports show that children are filling hospital beds more now than over the past two years of the pandemic. If you combine this outbreak with the usual incidence of flu and Covid, you have a lot of sick children. 

“Our community is having a surge of RSV and Influenza A,” says Dr. Noha Polack of Progressive Pediatrics, which has offices in Bayonne and Union City. “I advise parents in my practice to be mindful that babies, especially those who were born prematurely, are at risk of getting quite sick due to these two viruses.” 

Health practitioners are seeing the spike in cases in part because children’s resistance to pathogens declined during Covid. Long stretches at home, no daycare, and fewer playdates meant kids had less exposure to common colds and to viruses and therefore less opportunity to develop immunity to them. 

So, what can we do with major holidays coming up and lots of potential family gatherings?

Limit exposure

Dr. Polack advises, “It is your responsibility as a parent to protect your baby. So, if you think those in attendance at your gathering may have been exposed to or have RSV, flu, or Covid, consider declining the invitation.” 

Protect

Experts say parents should get children vaccinated against flu and Covid when age appropriate. If there’s one thing that Covid taught us, it’s that wearing a mask is not so horrible or inconvenient. Family members who don’t have time to quarantine after traveling can still visit with your baby if they don a mask. Personalize it. Make it festive. Don’t underestimate a mask’s protection from germs sprayed by the mouth or nose. Germs are also spread on surfaces. So, remember to wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds. It really works.

Prioritize.

Sure, everyone is very eager to meet the new baby; perhaps this holiday is your family’s first large-scale gathering since 2020, and everyone is so excited for you to attend, even pressuring you. Remember, if your baby under 2 months of age gets a fever, he or she needs to be examined in a timely manner and will likely need to undergo lab work to rule out such causes as blood infections, urinary infections, and meningitis. These tests, particularly the spinal tap for meningitis, can be invasive and painful. Weigh the benefits over the risks, and consider what’s most important for your family.

The pandemic taught us to truly fear contagions, but it also taught us how to protect one another and cope. As parents, we are automatically in protective mode when it comes to our babies, so a “tripledemic” like we’re experiencing can spike worry and anxiety levels. 

Communicate clearly with family members who may not take your concerns seriously. Emphasize the risks of any of these illnesses. Seek counseling if anxiety about them makes you feel overwhelmed. Most of all, remember you are not alone. 

Parents all over the country are feeling the same conflict about wanting to both protect their young ones and enjoy a normal, festive family gathering once again. Pfizer plans to release an RSV vaccine very soon. That should certainly alleviate these issues for next season. 

Photo by Laura Garcia

Jayne Freeman

Jayne Freeman, aka Mamarama, has been working with area parents for over ten years. She is a certified childbirth educator, certified breastfeeding counselor and certified in postpartum doula support....