As the so-called “tripledemic” of the flu, RSV and COVID-19 lingers into the new year, you can resolve to stay healthy with some common-sense precautions.
RUSH infectious disease specialist Shivanjali Shankaran, MD, offers these tips for staying safe through the season.
What precautions should I take if I’m flying or taking the train?
If you’re using public transportation, wearing a mask is a painless way to lower your chances of starting 2023 sick in bed.
“Masks are effective at protecting against COVID-19, the flu and RSV, as well as cold viruses that are going around now,” Shankaran says.
Other preventive steps include washing your hands frequently or using hand sanitizer.
Being up-to-date on your vaccines may be the most important move of all. Although there is no vaccine against RSV, there are shots that can protect against COVID-19 and the flu.
Some good news: This season's flu shot is a good match to the flu strains in circulation, Shankaran says. So, it can help you avoid or minimize the misery of being sick.
“True influenza is horrible. It makes you feel like you’ve been hit by a car, and you feel really, really bad,” she says. “But being vaccinated can make getting sick is a lot less horrible.”
Being vaccinated can also prevent unnecessary deaths. Already, 9,300 people in the U.S. have died from influenza this season.
When it comes to COVID-19, the newest bivalent boosters are also highly effective. People ages 12 and older who received the bivalent boosters were 18 times less likely to die from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who got the latest boosters were also three times less likely to test positive for COVID-19.
Isn’t it too late to get a flu or COVID-19 shot?
“Absolutely not — there is no such thing as ‘too late’ when it comes to getting vaccinated,” Shankaran says.
She recommends following the CDC vaccination schedule to make sure you and your family members are eligible.
How can I protect loved ones who are older or those who have weakened immune systems?
This is another scenario where being vaccinated and masking up during gatherings is smart. Even if you personally do not get very sick from a virus like COVID-19 or the flu, others may become quite ill.
“By masking, not only are you protecting yourself, but you’re also protecting others and contributing to a healthier society,” Shankaran says.
Having a COVID-19 test before you see friends or relatives is another option that can help you avoid infecting others if you have the virus, especially if your community has medium or high COVID-19 activity (you can check your COVID-19 community level on the CDC’s website).
What can I do to reduce my risk at a restaurant or social gathering?
In crowded places, trying to maintain your distance from others and being close to an open window may help reduce your risk. However, this can be tricky as temperatures drop.
You might try wearing a mask when you are not eating and drinking, Shankaran suggests.
What should I do if I start to feel sick?
“Get yourself tested and stay away from others until you know the results,” Shankaran says. “The earlier you can find out, the better. We have great antiviral treatments for COVID-19 and the flu. The earlier you start them, the more effective they are and the quicker you’ll feel better.”
Some research has also found that if you take an antiviral for COVID-19 after becoming infected, you’ll decrease your risk for developing long COVID, Shankaran says.
Staying hydrated, eating bland foods and using lozenges can also help ease flu and COVID-19 symptoms, Shankaran says. If you choose an over-the-counter cold and flu medicine, be wary of taking additional pain relievers because many of these products already contain acetaminophen, she adds.
And if you have a little one at home, she recommends knowing the signs of RSV and getting emergency care if your child is struggling to breathe.
If you or a family member gets sick over the holidays, Rush On Demand offers variety of ways to reach a provider, including same-day appointments.