I live in Maine, where temperatures are already dipping into the 30s at night and the trees are blanketing the lawns with red and yellow leaves in preparation for winter. In the pre-COVID world, this time of year is when colds and flu come to mind.
This year is no different, except for the fact that we have had a couple of years of reprieve with low case counts of influenza, largely due to infection control practices that were put in place during the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All that mask wearing paid off big time in reducing the incidence of colds and flu. Personally, I have never had healthier winters in this regard, despite living in the tundra.
Don’t be Lulled into Complacency this Winter
Infectious disease experts are predicting a whopper of a flu season. In fact, in the week ending Oct. 1, there were 969 cases of influenza A and 52 cases of influenza B reported to the CDC, an over 300% increase from cases reported the week ending Aug. 6.
While you are pondering the idea of getting your flu shot, which is the best way to prevent catching the flu, make an appointment for the newest COVID-19 booster too. The updated COVID booster provides protection against the original strain of the virus as well as the new Omicron subvariants. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 12 years and older―including those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised―receive one dose of the updated COVID-19 booster at least two months after their last dose (either the final dose of the primary series or the last booster shot).
Infection Control Protocols Help Keep You and Me Healthy
I travel a lot for my job, and I’m always amazed to see how few people in airports and on planes are still masking. I wear a mask because I want to stay healthy and avoid COVID, colds and the flu if I can. Is it a guarantee I won’t get sick? No, but it is a small concession to make when I am trapped in an airplane sitting close to coughing strangers and crying babies. I just envision those viral particles floating through the air filtration system and hurling throughout the plane. That is enough of a vivid image for me to keep my KN95 on my face. Besides, these masks now come in pretty colors and patterns that make wearing them more fun!
Even if you have had enough of mask-wearing, the pandemic is not over—COVID-19 is still around. The sad fact is that more than 300 people a day are still dying from COVID-19, despite new cases and hospitalizations trending down. We are in a much better place in terms of our ability to treat COVID-19 than we were two years ago, but for some vulnerable patients, that is not enough.
Protect Yourself This Winter
My message is simple: Stay healthy this winter! Take care of yourself and your loved ones by getting your flu shots and COVID boosters (you can get them both at the same time), and book an appointment today at your local pharmacy or physician’s office. And if you feel that the flu is no big deal, let me gently remind you that the flu has resulted in 9 million–41 million illnesses, 140,000-710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000–52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020.