Viruses are making the rounds right now as we head into the holidays of 2022. Learn how you can keep your loved ones healthy and safe throughout the process. Photo: Getty Images.
Influenza, RSV and COVID-19 infections are skyrocketing just as we are gearing up for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
“We are officially in respiratory viral season. That includes everything you can imagine, from the common cold to more serious illnesses, and it’s off to a strong start,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, UCHealth’s senior medical director for infection prevention and control and a leading disease expert. infectious in Colorado.
“Sometimes we have a slow start to the respiratory season. Not this year,” Barron said. “We went from nothing to hundreds of cases in a very short time.”
Barron advises sick people to avoid large gatherings.
We don’t have to go back to the isolation of the 2020 Thanksgiving and holiday season. But Barron encourages people to think of others before traveling or showing up for a big Thanksgiving dinner or other festive gathering.
“Use your common sense. If you’re sick, you don’t want to pass your illness on to grandma and grandpa. At the end of the day, the goal is to be able to keep doing things and enjoy the holidays. Just do it in a way that doesn’t negatively affect others,” said Barron, who is also a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine Anschutz Medical Campus.
His guidance is straightforward and familiar to most people, as this is the third Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday season we have faced since the pandemic began in early 2020.
Barron’s advice for staying healthier over the holidays in 2022 includes:
Get vaccinated to prevent COVID-19 and the flu. (There is no vaccine yet to prevent RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), but there may be one for pregnant women soon.) Stay home from work, meetings, and parties if you are sick. Wash hands frequently. Wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings. Get tested or go to your doctor’s office to get tested if you are sick. If you do test positive, there are therapies that can help people early in the course of a COVID-19 or flu illness. Seek emergency medical attention right away if you or your child cannot breathe or are experiencing any other type of medical emergency. Get preventative care like regular childhood and adult immunizations and stay up-to-date with medications for chronic conditions like diabetes.
“Now is the time. If you haven’t already, get your flu shot and your bivalent COVID-19 booster,” Barron said.
Health experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also urge people to think about indoor air quality. Keep in mind that respiratory diseases are spread through the air. Using air filters and opening windows to ventilate crowded indoor environments can help reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses. See how ventilation can help keep you safer by checking out CDC’s interactive ventilation tool.
Viruses going around right now in 2022
Today’s infectious disease landscape is troubling as physicians and public health experts battle a trifecta of enemies: the flu, RSV, and COVID-19.
Last year, health experts worried about a possible “double demic” of flu and COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 infections spiked last fall and winter, but flu season wasn’t as bad as feared.
Flu and RSV have arrived early this year, and COVID-19 infections are rising this fall, just as they have for three years in a row. The twin infectious diseases that were worrisome in recent years have morphed into a disease-causing trio this year.
The current update on respiratory viruses occurring in Colorado
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado continue to rise week-over-week, from 183 at the end of October to 320 as of November 9.
RSV infections hit so early and hard this fall that managers at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora erected an overflow tent outside the emergency room in late October. Medical providers are caring for babies and children who are not as seriously ill in the store. Those triage efforts create more space for sicker infants and children within hospital emergency and intensive care units. Many young patients have trouble breathing due to RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus. RSV is an infection that causes more serious illness in infants and children. Adults can get it, but it often manifests with typical cold symptoms in older adults.
At Children’s Hospital Colorado, emergency departments have seen daily patient averages that are 30% higher than during the busiest days of flu and RSV seasons in the past.
“It really is like nothing we’ve seen before,” Dr. Kevin Carney, deputy medical director of Children’s Hospital Colorado, said during a Nov. 9 news conference.
Adult hospitals, like UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, are stepping up to care for adolescents to ease the burden on children’s hospitals. And state health officials have once again activated an emergency hospital transfer system, first launched during the challenging early days of the pandemic.
Barron said this year’s RSV outbreak is overwhelming hospitals caring for pediatric patients.
“We are seeing patients with RSV and there will be contagion in the adult population. If you have kids, chances are you’re going to be exposed to this and get sick,” Barron said. “Most adults will not be hospitalized with RSV. But if you have asthma or underlying lung problems or are immunocompromised, your risk is higher.”
Meanwhile, flu cases are also increasing. The spread of the flu has been high for weeks in parts of the southern United States. Infections and hospitalizations are now on the rise in Colorado and surrounding states.
Colorado health officials have started a text message and email campaign to notify adults 65 and older to make sure they get a flu shot. Pregnant women are also at very high risk if they contract respiratory infections.
“If you’re sick, don’t show up to meetings or wear a mask,” Barron said, reiterating the perennial advice he gives this time of year.
“Be acutely aware that these infections can disproportionately affect our elderly, our very young children and our immunocompromised hosts,” Barron said. “We want to make sure that these people do not get infected and that everyone can enjoy the holidays equally, free of illness.”
Many people are tired of being careful or wearing masks. But the evidence is clear. Wearing a mask on a plane or in a crowded grocery store can reduce infection rates.
“There is no debate on this,” Barron said. “Masquerading works. If you really want to see your loved ones during the holidays, wearing a mask will help prevent the spread of disease.”