Flu season. Two words that strike fear into everyone during the fall. Because, as the temperatures drop, the rates of viral respiratory illnesses seem to rise in communities everywhere. And with the emergence of COVID-19 and RSV in recent years, there’s more to consider than just the flu—we’re facing a “tripledemic” of viruses that can cause health challenges to people of all walks of life.
That’s why it’s crucial to know “what’s going around”, so you can protect yourself and your loved ones. Below, we’ll dive into the top viral illness trends of 2023 and discuss some practical ways to limit your exposure to these nasty bugs and safeguard you and your family’s health through the holidays and into 2024.
What’s going around? Viral Respiratory Trends in 2023
Similar to trends seen in 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that the trifecta of COVID-19, RSV, and the flu will experience similar rates for 2023 into 2024. The fall of 2022 was a particularly bad season for respiratory illnesses after communities nationwide relaxed their social distancing, mask-wearing, and prevention measures. Influenza rates spiked and hit hard for many, while COVID-19 still posed a health challenge well after the surge of the pandemic.
The CDC expects that this year we’ll see a similar number of total hospitalizations compared to 2022, a year that saw significantly higher numbers than years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means there’s more chances than ever to become sick or hospitalized during the virus season.
The CDC says that, despite the initial outlook, that it’s possible for hospitalizations to be even higher than last year. The key factor in a peak of hospitalizations is how the peaks of each individual virus corresponds with the other. If RSV and COVID-19 peak at the same time, you can expect those hospitalization to be increased compared to a model where they spike individually.
The stacked green bars show two potential scenarios for hospitalizations related to flu, RSV, and COVID-19 this fall and winter. Dashed lines show hospitalization levels for specific viruses in previous years for comparison. These scenarios illustrate how the additional burden from COVID-19 during a moderate season for the three respiratory diseases may generate more hospital demand than a severe influenza and RSV season prior to the emergence of COVID-19 (bottom dashed line). Source: the CDC
The good news? There are things you can do to keep yourself safe from the tripledemic. Read on for resources that help you keep tabs on what’s going on in your community and how to better equip yourself during the colder months.
Here’s a breakdown of respiratory viral trends for 2023 and 2024:
For the remainder of 2023 and into 2024, the CDC predicts that there will be a moderate COVID-19 wave.
- COVID-19 is expected to cause a similar number of hospitalizations compared to last winter. Due to prior infections and vaccinations in previous years, there’s a significant immunity to COVID-19, meaning that it’ll help reduce the burden on healthcare systems.
- There’s potential that COVID-19 could peak early due to less summer activity this year.
- Experts also agree that a severe surge is unlikely unless a new variant emerges, but caution that COVID-19 can still result in serious illness, especially vulnerable individuals with comorbidities.
There are a wide variety of symptoms associated with COVID-19, where symptoms typically appear 2-14 days after exposure. It’s worth noting that some people with COVID-19 may experience mild symptoms or none at all. Those with comorbidities may experience more severe symptoms.
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
- Congestion or runny nose
- Loss of taste or smell
- Nausea or vomiting
As we stated earlier, influenza trends will be similar to last year. Generally, influenza seasons are unpredictable year to year, meaning that each season varies widely in terms of number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. Additionally, the CDC doesn’t believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will have any major impact this year on influenza transmissions like it has had in years prior.
Influenza symptoms are similar to those of COVID-19, with a few subtle differences. Normally it takes one to four days after infection for someone with the flu to show symptoms, whereas COVID-19 symptoms usually appear 2-14 days after exposure.
Flu symptoms include:
- Fever or chills
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Body aches
- Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more commonly seen in children.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) had a severe season last year, but the good news is that RSV is expected to return to normal seasonal patterns for 2023. Since 2022 was so severe for RSV transmissions, immunity levels were slightly elevated, which is expected to help reduce the burden of illness this year. Additionally, there’s new RSV vaccines for those who are 60 years and older, as well as immunization for infants.
Symptoms typically show around 4-6 days after exposure to RSV and usually appear in stages, rather than all at once. For infants infected with RSV, they may only show symptoms, such as irritability, fatigue, and breathing difficulty.
- Runny nose
- Decreased appetite
Influenza cells under a microscope.
What’s going around in your area? Stay up-to-date with viral illness trends.
We've compiled a list of resources available to you to use throughout the season.
- LA County COVID-19 Data
- Tracking COVID-19 in California
- Influenza News and Resources from the LA County Department of Public Health
- RSV Prevention & Tips from LA County Department of Public Health
- Chicago Influenza and Respiratory Virus Surveillance Report
- Chicago COVID-19 Data
- Chicago Department of Public Health Weekly Brief
New York City
- Flu Tracker Weekly - NYAPD - NYS Health Connector
- COVID-19 Data in New York
- RSV Overview and Prevention Tips
- CDC Virus Respiratory Virus Updates
- CDC COVID Data Tracker
- WHO COVID-19 Dashboard
- Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report
Tips to Protect Yourself from Viral Infections in 2023 & 2024
Bottom line, no one wants to get sick or make others sick. Here are a few ways to protect yourself from viral infections in 2023 and into 2024. Just remember, these are guidelines—consult your physician on any medical advice.
Vaccination—Work with your doctor to stay up to date with recommended vaccines, including flu shots and COVID-19 boosters, to reduce your risk of illness.
Practice Good Hygiene—It may seem simple, but handwashing, hand sanitizers, and general hygiene go a long way toward staying well. Also, avoid close contact with sick individuals.
Wearing Masks—Masks are never not-in-style. If viruses are surging in your area, consider wearing a mask indoor to prevent transmission.
Enhance Your Indoor Air Quality with an Air Purifier—Air quality is everything.
Consider investing in an air purifier to continuously filter and purify the air in your home.
Molekule air purifiers use Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) technology to capture and destroy airborne viruses, bacteria, and other pollutants at a molecular level. As a bonus, Molekule purifiers are HSA / FSA eligible too.
Replace Your Purifier’s Filters Frequently—Already have an air purifier? Make sure to replace those filters on a regular basis to keep them running at their best. Over time, large particles can build up and decrease the efficiency of your purifier. Filters should be replaced every six months to keep your air purifier running at peak performance. Never forget to replace your filter again with Molekule’s auto-renew subscriptions to have filters delivered at your door, right when you need them.
Ventilation—Proper ventilation in indoor spaces helps reduce the concentration of airborne viruses. Ensure that your home and workplace are well-ventilated.
Travel Safely—If traveling, make sure to research your destination’s health guidelines, and don’t forget to take precautions, such as mask-wearing and hand hygiene.
Stay Informed—Regularly check updates from health authorities and follow their recommendations. Being informed about local outbreaks and health guidelines is crucial.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle—Finally, a strong immune system can help protect yourself against infections. It goes without saying, but make sure to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and prioritize getting enough sleep.
As we look ahead to 2024, the tridemic of respiratory illnesses is here to stay. With that said, it's important to be proactive in safeguarding your health against viral threats. Thankfully, you can take action by staying informed about ongoing viral trends, implementing protective measures, such as vaccination, good hygeine, and using Molekule air purifiers to enhance your indoor air quality. With these small changes, you can reduce your risk of exposure.
Stay well out there, everyone.