The days are getting shorter, the cold weather has arrived and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Do you know what that means? We’re officially in the thick of cold and flu season.
“This is a unique time when viruses are colliding and reduced immunity in the population, after two years of social distancing and masking, leave more people susceptible to infection,” said Henry Anyimadu, MD, chief of infectious disease for MidState Medical Center and The Hospital of Central Connecticut.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your family this winter? Here’s what you need to know:
1. Flu started early and many are stalling vaccination.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that many people have opted to get their COVID booster first and delay their flu vaccine. The concern, Dr. Anyimadu said, is that the vaccine takes up to two weeks to be fully effective and flu is already circulating widely, with more positive tests and hospitalizations since the swine flu outbreak in 2009-2010, and already a tally of deaths, including children. Anyone over the age of six months is eligible for a flu vaccine and should get one as soon as possible, Dr. Anyimadu said.
2. RSV cases are soaring.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is already surging across the country, especially in young children who did not develop natural immunity to the virus due to pandemic isolation and whose smaller airways are more susceptible to the virus, according to William Horgan, MD, an emergency room physician at Backus Hospital. Parents can remind children to wash their hands regularly, avoid close contact and use their elbow or a clean tissue to cover coughs and sneezes.
3. Amoxicillin supplies are short.
While not effective in treating flu or RSV, amoxicillin is often prescribed as secondary protection against underlying bacterial infections in children with either disease. Supplies are reportedly low in parts of the country, although Lucia Benzoni, MD, a pediatrician with the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, said she’s only had trouble once, with the chewable form of the medication. There are also other options for amoxicillin, depending on the diagnosis. Augmentin, for example, is an option, as is cephalosporin for strep throat.
4. COVID Omicron subvariants are dominant, but a booster can stop them.
The CDC reported last week that the Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ1.1 currently account for 35% of current COVID cases in the country, up from 23% the week before. Protection against both subvariants is available in the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine that is currently available. “People need to understand that immunity from the original vaccine wanes and boosters are necessary for continued protection. The bivalent vaccine causes the immune system to create antibodies against the original and the Omicron strains of COVID,” Dr. Anyimadu said.
Back to basics
In the face of what many are calling a “tripledemic,” Dr. Benzoni said she continues to return to basics to help families dodge flu, RSV and COVID.
“I recommend people follow a good healthy diet, with fruits and vegetables daily, wash their hands, and remind children to keep their hands out of their mouths and to not pick their nose,” she said. “All of those habits transmit diseases.”
And, Dr. Anyimadu said there’s no better protection than vaccination against viruses.