Staying healthy during cold and flu season amid COVID-19
By Mary Anna Rodabaugh
As the weather gets colder, autumn ushers in cold and flu season. Last year, Philadelphians may recall how the COVID-19 pandemic overshadowed the traditional cold and flu season. This year, we’re faced with new COVID-19 variants on top of cold and flu season. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not have a strong stance as to whether this year’s flu season will be more severe than in the past. However, it is important to protect yourself and stay healthy.
“I recommend getting the flu vaccine in early fall – certainly by the end of October,” says John Cacciamani, geriatrician, and President and CEO of Chestnut Hill Hospital. “It may take two weeks to get the full antibody response and the peak of flu is usually December to February, so you want to have the most protection when the virus is at its highest prevalence.”
If you have not already, please consider receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Cacciamani also recommends older adults listen to the news for guidance regarding a COVID-19 booster shot and its availability this autumn.
Cold and flu germs can be spread on frequently touched surfaces. Using a disinfectant spray or wipe that can kill 99% of germs is recommended to clean high-touch surfaces, including doorknobs, light switches, countertops, keys, cell phones or tablets, faucets, and door handles found on refrigerators and microwaves. Set a daily schedule for wiping down these surfaces.
Wash hands often
“The most important thing older adults should do to protect themselves from the cold and flu is to properly wash their hands or use hand sanitizer,” says Joel D. Pomerantz, M.D., chair of geriatrics at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
Pomerantz offers the following handwashing recommendations. Be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, paying close attention to in between your fingers and under your fingernails. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer handy for moments when you need to clean your hands but do not have access to soap and water. Choose a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. As you rub in the hand sanitizer, be sure to cover the entire surface of your hands. Make sure your hands are dry before resuming activities.
As we age, our immune systems age as well. This can make older adults more susceptible to colds or the flu. Therefore, it is important to avoid encountering others who may be sick. This includes family members, friends and neighbors. Consider using video chat to “visit” with ill loved ones until they feel better and are no longer contagious.
Wearing a mask in public or when in close contact with others who reside outside your home is a good idea as well.
“Continue to mask up,” Cacciamani recommends. “We saw a drop in flu cases last year and most attribute that to the masking [requirement] that was in place for COVID.”
What to do if you have flu-like symptoms
In the event that you start to get chills, nausea, fever or other flu-like symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. “A nasal or throat swab can detect the flu and medication can be prescribed to decrease symptoms and shorten the course if started within 48 hours of symptoms,” Pomerantz says.
After visiting the doctor, stay home and stay hydrated. When it comes to staying healthy, stick to the basics: use caution and practice preventive measures.
Mary Anna Rodabaugh is a writer, editor and writing coach.