Image: Maui is dealing with the “Tripledemic” of Covid, the Flu and RSV. “Be sharp, be smart,” said Dr. Norman Estin, the founder of Doctors On Call Urgent Care. “Get tested, get treated, get well!”
Honokowai – Lahaina News caught up with West Maui medical expert Dr. Norm Estin during a break in testing for Coronavirus and Influenza at the Times Doctors On Call clinic.
What’s the current status on Covid here on Maui?
Dr. Estin: Life is slowly getting back to normal, but we all need to be careful. I tell people that the pandemic emergency is over, but Covid is not. Historically, respiratory pandemics last 4-5 years, and this will not be different. They always follow five stages: denial, anxiety, adjustment, reevaluation, and a new normal. We are only between stage 3 and 4. The whole world will have a lot of new cases this winter because China has loosened their restrictions, plus there are a whole slew of new variants all over the world every month.
Two to three years to go, everybody. I’m sorry, but that’s the reality.
Here on Maui, I doubt if there is one person who doesn’t know someone currently positive for Covid. Fortunately, few people are very ill, but the total numbers are up and the hospital, like all hospitals on the Mainland, is full or nearly so.
We see a lot less news coverage than the past years. How come?
Dr. Estin: I’m not sure. The country is still seeing close to 500 people dying each day from Covid. That’s 150,000 to 180,000 per year. For the third straight year, it will be the third leading cause of death in the USA, behind only heart
disease and cancer. That’s quite amazing. We’ve lost over a million people so far, and counting. That means 9 million of us have lost a loved one, often unnecessarily. Plus, many people who caught Covid will go on to have bad symptoms for years or their whole lives — so-called “Long Covid.”
What can we do about this to protect ourselves?
Dr. Estin: The scientific truth is that nothing works to prevent hospitalization and deaths except for vaccines. And the good news is that the new Bivalent Booster vaccine, available for free in pharmacies, is fantastic. It will protect against the old strains as well as the newer Omicron variants.
Remember, it’s not designed to protect you against getting a mild case of sniffles or a cough or sinus infection, but it will keep you out of the intensive care unit!
This is especially important for those over 65 and our kupuna. Today, Americans over 65 account for 90 percent of new Covid deaths, even though a large share (94 percent) of seniors are at least partially vaccinated. So, encourage all seniors to get the new Bivalent Booster, and if sick and positive, to get treated with Paxlovid, which works wonders.
In fact, the White House COVID-19 coordinator, Dr. Jha, recently said, “Getting that updated Bivalent vaccine is the most important thing you can do.”
We are hearing about the “Tripledemic:” Covid, the Flu and RSV. What’s the story on the last two?
Dr. Estin: Yes, this is the winter of the respiratory viruses, and they are arriving by the thousands each day on our airplanes. No way to stop it. It would be helpful if flyers and others wore masks more regularly like they do in Asia, but good luck with that.
The Flu viruses, principally Influenza A and B, are around a lot. They can be diagnosed by a simple nasal swab test in a doctor’s office, with immediate results. We do at least dozens every day. There is no free home test kit. The good news is we have an effective oral treatment, five days of Tamiflu, prescription only.
Like we say, for both Covid and the Flu, it’s “Get tested, get treated, get well!” Remember, both Covid and the Flu will be with us forever.
RSV (short for Respiratory Syncitial Virus) has been around since the ’50s and usually just affects kids. This year, and nobody knows why, we’re seeing it often in adults, too. We have a test in our offices, but there is no vaccine and no curative treatment. The Flu and RSV are different from Covid in that they can also spread by personal contact and from surfaces as well as through the air. So personal hygiene — like keeping surfaces clean, hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick
— are very important.
Again, all these viruses are more easily spread indoors and in crowded situations. So, remember the importance of being outdoors, good ventilation and masking up when around a lot of people. All these things and getting the super protective booster are pretty easy for all of us, eh?