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Turkish doctor highlights measures to be taken against triple-epidemic effect

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The world is facing a triple threat with a confluence of viral infections due to the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and COVID-19, a Turkish infectious disease specialist said Wednesday.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), the specialist from the Turkish capital Ankara warned of the triple epidemic effect present specifically during the winter season.

“A triple epidemic, which is a combination of the coronavirus, flu and RSV, is on the rise across the world as the time people spend indoors has increased during the winter season and most countries have removed measures implemented in the past to halt the spread of COVID-19,” said professor Dr. Serhat Unal, a faculty member at the Infectious Diseases Department of Hacettepe University.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet. Many countries, including Türkiye, have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases recently as respiratory tract infections are widely observed during the winter season,” Unal warned.

New COVID-19 variants are more contagious but cause less severe illness, he said, adding that people who get their vaccines are much less likely to experience bad outcomes, hospitalization and death. The omicron’s sub-variant “kraken,” which is spreading rapidly in the U.S. and Europe, is another concern since it was noted last week by a member of the Turkish Ministry of Health Coronavirus Scientific Committee that this variant of the virus may spread in Türkiye as well.

Not surprisingly, the world has also been observing a sharp rise in infections related to colds and flu due to winter conditions, according to Unal.

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“The current figures are not much higher than it was predicted,” he said, adding he expects a decrease in the cases toward the end of the winter season.

Moreover, he underlined that many respiratory infections including RSV, adenovirus and rhinovirus may cause the common cold. “Unlike COVID-19 and flu, most of these infections cause only upper respiratory tract infections and they usually do not spread into the lungs,” Unal said.

“However, the RSV virus may also cause lung infections in early childhood or at later ages,” he noted.

“RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on its official website.

“RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 year of age in the U.S.,” it added.

Necessary measures

Unal stressed the significance of personal protective measures to be safe from epidemic diseases this winter.

“First of all, we must follow the rules of healthy living. A healthy and balanced diet, doing sports, staying away from stress and a regular sleep pattern are crucial for general well-being. The risk of transmission of infectious diseases will decrease if the well-being of the body is high,” he said.

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Secondly, he urged people to continue to implement the special methods developed to protect themselves not only from COVID-19 but also from all respiratory tract infections, such as “wearing a mask, physical distancing and good hand hygiene.”

Unal called on everyone, especially people over the age of 65, those with chronic diseases and patients using drugs that impair the immune system as well as pregnant women to get vaccinated.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Dec. 1 that the influenza season epidemic has kicked off early in Europe and countries are now trying to ease the burden on health systems that are at risk from rising cases of RSV and COVID-19.

COVID-19 has further compounded the woes of the U.S. health care system, which even prior to the pandemic was strained by winter illnesses, and risks imperiling it for years to come, according to a recently published report.

Traditionally, the strains on the health care system in winter come from influenza and other seasonal illnesses, including RSV. But with the advent of COVID-19, the viruses have formed what The Washington Post newspaper called an “unholy trinity of pathogens that surge in the cold months.” The U.S. newspaper also pointed out that officials are warning of the permanence of COVID-19, as the country entered its third full pandemic winter and it may lead to surges in other cold-weather illnesses in the years onward.

That has led to some hospitals being forced to put off other life-saving treatments, with White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha telling the Post that the existing health care system may buckle under the pressures being presented.

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