Public health experts are expecting we will see more cases of respiratory viral infections like influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) this fall and winter, alongside COVID-19 cases.
“For the last couple of years, the public health measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also helped reduce the number of respiratory viruses circulating in the community,” notes Dr. Jennie Johnstone, Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control for Sinai Health. “Now that many of these measures are no longer in place, we anticipate that we will see a return to our pre-pandemic levels of influenza cases.”
Here are some tips to help avoid getting sick this fall and winter. Each of these tools on its own is effective, but we get the best protection when we use them together.
1. Stay up to date on your vaccines.
Vaccines are one of the best forms of protection we have against influenza and COVID-19. What does it mean to stay up to date?
- For influenza, staying up to date means getting your flu shot each year in the fall.
- The recommended time between COVID-19 vaccine doses is currently six months. In some cases, you can get your booster as early as three months after your last dose. Pay attention to when you are eligible for your next dose or mark it in your calendar. You can read more about bivalent vaccines here.
2. Wear a mask.
While masks are no longer required in most places outside of health care settings, it is still a good idea to mask up, especially in crowded indoor gatherings and public spaces. Wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses like influenza and COVID-19.
3. Stay home if you feel ill.
Staying home from work, school and social activities when you feel sick with any symptoms is extremely important for a few reasons:
- An infection that causes you to experience mild symptoms could be severe for young children, older adults, people who are pregnant and people who are immunocompromised.
- People can have COVID-19 more than once, so staying home when you are ill helps reduce transmission and hospital stays.
- Preventing the spread of respiratory viruses in our communities also helps keep our hospitals safer for our patients and for everyone who works here.
4. Clean your hands.
Hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of infection. Clean your hands often, especially in public places, for at least 15 seconds with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and warm water.
5. Gather outdoors.
When socializing, gathering outdoors is lower risk than indoors. Remember, people can spread respiratory viruses before they develop symptoms, or during a mild case. Whenever the level of respiratory viruses circulating in the community is high, indoor gatherings can quickly lead to multiple infections. Planning outdoor activities, when feasible, reduces this risk.