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AARP Tele-Town Hall: Advice for Fighting Respiratory Illnesses Amid ‘Tripledemic’

Senior African-American man wearing a scarf and coughing in his hand
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En español | Vaccination for respiratory illnesses like flu, COVID-19 and RSV is the best way to protect yourself as these viruses surge across the country. But older adults can also boost their armor against these diseases by controlling stress levels, getting enough sleep and exercise and eating a diet packed with nutrients, health experts told listeners of an AARP tele-town hall Feb. 8.

Anand Parekh, M.D., chief medical adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Virginia Caine, M.D., president-elect of the National Medical Association, joined AARP officials to discuss the “tripledemic” — the convergence of flu, COVID-19 and RSV cases around the country this winter — and answer questions from callers.

Caine told listeners that stress and chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes make it tougher for the body to fight these respiratory illnesses. Caregivers are especially vulnerable because of the elevated stress that often comes with taking care of a loved one, added Rita Choula, senior director of caregiving with the AARP Public Policy Institute. According to the CDC, 41 percent of family caregivers have two or more chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure. This can make them even more susceptible to illness, Choula said.

“If you don’t prioritize taking care of yourself … things can really catch up to you,” she said. “And you may find yourself sick with one of these viruses and ultimately unable to care for others.”

Caine emphasized the importance of getting six to eight hours of sleep, eating enough fruits and vegetables, and getting 150 minutes per week of physical activity to foster a healthy immune system.

Parekh noted that staying up to date with your vaccinations offers the best protection against respiratory illnesses, although vaccination rates for COVID and RSV remain low. In addition, he recommended frequent handwashing and masking up in crowded settings. He also emphasized the importance of timely treatment for those who test positive for viruses. Drugs like Tamiflu for the flu and Paxlovid for COVID-19 can reduce the chance of severe illness if taken in time, but have been underutilized, he added.

Listen to a recording of the tele-town hall and keep up with AARP’s health coverage. Use AARP's state-by-state vaccine guides to find a COVID-19 shot in your state.

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