Officials urge precaution against “tripledemic”

Published 12:30 am Friday, January 6, 2023

Health officials are urging vaccinations and precautions in Port Arthur and Mid County as cases of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus spike higher than they have in recent years.

Known as the “tripledemic,” the mixture of the three viruses can lead to severe infections in those primarily impacted by RSV — children, older adults, those suffering from cardiac diseases, and the autoimmune compromised.

“We don’t want that to occur in our infants and children,” said Judith Smith, director of the Port Arthur Health Department. “We had a very early flu season. Most of our infants and young children didn’t have exposure this time last year because a lot of people were still wearing masks.”

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The 2022-23 flu season began Oct. 3, according to information from Texas Health and Human Services. As of Dec. 30, 22.96 percent of the 151,784 people statewide tested for the flu this season received positive results.

On Dec. 9, the Centers for Disease Control hosted a telebriefing on respiratory disease circulation, saying that since Oct. 1 there had been at least 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from the flu. Fourteen of the 4,500 were children.

“Last year we had a very mild flu season,” Smith said, also noting a current rise in COVID and RSV. “It was nothing compared to what’s going on now.”

This week the department, which serves Port Arthur and Mid County, reported 43 positive COVID cases between Dec. 29-30, 63 cases from Dec. 31 to Jan. 3, and 20 cases Jan. 4.

“Of course after Thanksgiving we knew our numbers would probably go up some, and with Christmas too,” Smith said. “Even though we’ve done some of the bivalent boosters, we have not done many at all.”

According to information from the Food and Drug Administration, the bivalent COVID booster includes a component of the original strain with the addition of one from omicron.

Smith said bivalent boosters from Moderna and Pfizer are available for children 6 months and older. However, the COVID vaccine center on Cultural Center Drive has not received all available doses for ages 6 months to 4 years.

“If parents come in, we take their names down and if we don’t have the vaccine we call when it’s available,” she said.

In November the department partnered with Southeast Texas Interfaith Organization to offer $50 Walmart gift cards to children that received a vaccine. Smith said more than 200 children were vaccinated during that campaign, many for the first time.

The department has additional $50 cards provided by Southeast Texas Interfaith available for children.