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'Tripledemic’ isn’t over yet, but experts say the falling case rate is 'nice to see'

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Flu cases across New York State have been declining rapidly since the holidays. Numbers have been decreasing by up to 50% per week, according to the state’s flu tracker.

The week ending on Jan. 7, Monroe County reported 333 new influenza cases. The following week that number dropped to 132.

Flu is one of the three viruses making up the so-called tripledemic. The other two, RSV and COVID-19, are also seeing a steady decline in positive cases statewide and locally. However, although things are looking promising overall, experts say we are not out of the woods just yet.

“I think it’s premature to say it’s over,” said Dr. Emil Lesho, Rochester Regional infectious disease specialist. “It’s getting much better, but it’s not over.”

Lesho said in the past early peaking flu seasons, like the one we are experiencing, sometimes flatten out and have another late peak. He said this could still happen since flu often spreads until early spring.

“We’re headed in a nice direction, and it’s nice to see,” Lesho said, “But it’s a little early to say it’s done.”

Lesho believes the downward trend could be attributed to a high degree of communal immunity, along with vaccinations, and possibly the weather. Dr. Mary Caserta, a pediatric infectious disease specialist for University of Rochester Medical Center, said low transmission rates had a lot to do with schools being on break.

“Schools have a pot that the flu boils out of,” Caserta said. “School-aged children, not exclusively, seem to be a population that spreads flu to the rest of the community.”

Caserta said flu cases often resurge once school resumes, but this hasn’t been the scenario. In some years, a second wave of more serious flu – Influenza B – can follow the initial Influenza A wave. That hasn’t happened yet – and may not at all - but Caserta said it’s too early to dismiss it as a possibility.

“Flu has too many tricks up its sleeve... I wouldn't count it out yet,” she said.

Caserta added that the children's hospital is not seeing many patients with viral infections. She said bed occupancy has gone down to more general levels. Patients are no longer waiting in the emergency department or being “doubled-up” in rooms like they were during the height of RSV transmissions.

Lesho said adult hospitalizations are “tied right now” between flu and COVID-19 inpatients.

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.