As respiratory illnesses like flu, RSV, and COVID spread this holiday season, health experts emphasize the importance of hand hygiene to prevent infection.
Flu and RSV Hitting Earlier, Harder Than Usual
According to Dr. Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer at Munson Healthcare, flu and RSV cases began increasing earlier than usual this fall (Wilx). By late November, Michigan hospitals were already nearing capacity levels typically seen in January or February.
In an interview last week (Michigan Radio), Dr. Dennis Cunningham of Henry Ford Hospital said this flu season seems “a little more severe” than years past. He attributes this to two years of mild flu seasons resulting in waning immunity in the population.
RSV poses a particular risk to infants. This contagious virus can lead to severe respiratory illness in very young children.
COVID Cases Rising amid New Variants
While COVID cases remain lower than last winter’s peak, health experts are seeing an increase as new Omicron subvariants emerge. According to the CDC (Yahoo), the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants now account for over 50% of cases nationally.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky notes these variants appear “a little bit more transmissible” than earlier strains. She predicts rising COVID hospitalizations as these contagious variants spread.
Hand Hygiene Offer Major Defense
Experts agree the most effective step people can take is frequent, thorough hand washing.
When around others, be aware of what you touch. Avoid contacting eyes, nose, and mouth until hands can be cleaned properly. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer if soap/water isn’t available.
Summary of Key Hand Hygiene Tips
|Why It Works
|Wash with soap & water for ≥20 sec
|Removes germs oils/particles
|Use sanitizer if soap unavailable
|Alcohol kills germs
|Don’t touch face before washing
|Stops germs entering body
|Wash after contact with surfaces
|Wash before eating/drinking
|Prevents ingesting germs
Beyond personal hygiene, also wipe down frequently touched surfaces. Disinfect items like door knobs, tables, chairs, and counters.
What Prevention Steps to Take Based on Age
Experts offer tailored advice based on age and risk factors:
Children: Keep infants away from sick people when possible. Ensure kids wash hands thoroughly/frequently. Disinfect toys children put in mouths.
Adults: Get flu and COVID boosters to bolster immunity. Consider masking if local case levels rise. Vulnerable adults should consider extra precautions.
Elderly: Adults 65+ face higher risks from respiratory illness. Avoid crowded indoor spaces during peak virus season. Ask visitors to mask for added protection.
While children usually recover quickly, flu or RSV can lead to severe outcomes for vulnerable seniors. Careful prevention helps keep loved ones safe.
Celebrating Safely Over the Holidays
Health leaders discourage skipping holiday gatherings entirely since isolation poses risks too. Instead take sensible precautions:
- Host smaller get-togethers
- Meet outdoors when possible
- Request testing/masking if appropriate
- Ensure good ventilation if indoors
- Make hand hygiene easy with soap, sanitizer
Relatives visiting from out of town should watch for symptoms and test before traveling or seeing high-risk individuals.
By layering sensible measures, people can enjoy meaningful time with loved ones while reducing virus transmission risk.
What to Do If You Get Sick
If you develop cold or flu symptoms like sore throat, cough, congestion or fever:
- Test for COVID
- Stay home and rest
- Wear a mask if around others
- Take medications to ease symptoms
- Drink plenty of fluids
Call your doctor promptly if symptoms worsen or you have difficulty breathing. At-risk groups should seek early treatment for flu or COVID with antiviral medications.
Do not visit high-risk individuals while sick, even if symptoms seem mild. Flu or COVID can be extremely dangerous for vulnerable seniors and infants.
Outlook for Early 2023 Remains Uncertain
With so many variables in play, specialists say (Wilx, Yahoo) it remains difficult to predict case trajectories for early 2023. New variants could emerge, immunity may continue waning, and human factors like travel and gatherings all influence spread.
Experts urge people to remain vigilant about prevention steps like hand washing. Boosters and antiviral treatments for eligible groups also help moderate severe illness.
By working collectively to curb transmission now, we can hopefully transition back to more normal routines as winter progresses. Hand hygiene serves as a simple yet profoundly effective first line of defense.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.