As we prepare for the holidays this year, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 isn’t the only virus circulating: the flu, RSV, and other culprits are all capable of causing significant sickness, if not death, in both children and adults. We asked Harvard experts for advice on how to keep everyone healthy, and we carefully modified their comments for clarity.
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Begin with the children: It is critical that newborns and children receive routine immunizations. Vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles and polio have been able to resurface in recent years because vaccination rates have fallen below the level required to protect these infections from spreading. Everyone above the age of 6 months is eligible for flu and COVID vaccines, which lower the likelihood of being infected and dramatically reduce the risk of becoming extremely ill from these diseases.
Given the enormous frequency of respiratory infections prevalent in our communities, children’s hospitals across the United States, particularly emergency departments and inpatient units, are under severe strain right now. Reducing severe sickness through vaccination would help save these resources for diseases that vaccinations cannot prevent.
Include the adults: Respiratory infections, such as the flu, COVID, and RSV, can spread quickly within households. The more household members who are up to date on accessible flu and COVID vaccines, the less likely it is that those viruses will be introduced into a family.
The same is true for family and friend gatherings. People with weakened immune systems, medical disorders such as diabetes or obesity that increase their risk of serious infection, or infants too young to be inoculated are especially vulnerable to these infections. Vaccinating others with whom they come into contact protects both them and the individual who is vaccinated.
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Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Director, Harvard Healthy Buildings Program Joseph Allen, DSc, MPH, DIH
Improve indoor gathering ventilation: It all begins with recognising COVID-19 and other airborne diseases like flu that spread indoors in settings with insufficient ventilation. It’s simpler to see simple steps we can take if we start there. Consider the following: ventilation, dilution, and filtration. For example, we can help dilute the virus by opening a window, and we can help filter out virus respiratory particles by utilising a portable air purifier with a HEPA filter.
Really, most individuals will not become sick on aircraft. When operating, aeroplane systems provide great ventilation and filtration. Consider this: there are around 12 air changes per hour in a surgical suite [where doctors attempt to decrease the possibility of infection]; there are approximately 20 air changes per hour aboard an aeroplane [with ventilation systems working].
This mechanism is not always active during boarding and after landing. If you’re worried about getting sick while flying, wear a high-quality mask throughout boarding and disembarking. All masks assist, but not all masks are created equal: if you’re worried about becoming sick or have a compromised immune system, wear a high-quality mask like a N95, KN95, or KF94 that fits well over the bridge of your nose and is snug along the cheeks and chin. I personally find it quite easy to remove my mask during the flight.
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Extra attention for individuals in need
Suzanne E. Salamon, MD, is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Associate Chief of Geriatric Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
COVID isn’t finished: There are numerous points of view, but I believe it’s a mistake to believe we’re finished. Every day, 300 people die with COVID in the United States. As a geriatrician who handles the elderly, I’ve received more calls in recent months from persons who test positive for COVID than I ever have.
So many individuals tell me that they’re tired of it all and simply want to get back to living their lives. I understand. But when I hear about gathering 20 individuals from all over the country, family and friends with varying vaccination statuses and mask rules, I think there’s a good risk someone may catch COVID.
Take precautions, especially around vulnerable people: I have a 100-year-old mother who lives with us and a 4-month-old granddaughter whom I see frequently. As a result, I am exceedingly careful and adopt a more conservative approach than many others. Get immunised — and keep in mind that immunizations take a few weeks to fully activate. Before attending a gathering, take a COVID test. Of course, even repeated tests are not completely reliable, so if you have any symptoms of a cough or cold, it’s best to forego it. If you must go, use a high-quality mask to help protect others. Remove your mask only when eating and sit far away from more vulnerable folks.
Quick hugs appear to be acceptable as long as there are no symptoms. While we enjoy being together, small gatherings are preferable.
Please understand that any advice or guidelines revealed here are not even remotely a substitute for sound medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider. Make sure to consult with a professional physician before making any purchasing decision if you use medications or have concerns following the review details shared above. Individual results may vary as the statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.