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The rise of new Omicron subvariants, the massive surge of RSV in kids, and the early flu season are all combining to mean trouble for the upcoming holidays and travel season. Some of these, like RSV, we can’t do much about other than renew a focus on handwashing and cleaning high-traffic touchpoints like door handles and children’s toys or play areas. But for the flu and COVID, we have vaccines already available, which are our best tool to help keep the surge down. If you haven’t yet, do not wait any longer - go get your flu and COVID shots ASAP. They’re both here right now and about to get worse, and it takes a few weeks for your protection to kick in. Encourage your employees to do the same for themselves and their families. Getting flu and COVID shots is the best way to ensure that you can enjoy those holiday plans you’re making.
Like COVID, flu spreads through the air, though there’s still debate as to whether that’s via aerosolized particles or larger droplets. Surface transmission of the flu - like touching a contaminated door handle or faucet - is less common but still possible, so handwashing is still important. You’re likely contagious at least a day before you develop symptoms, and many people get the virus without ever having symptoms, which contributes to the spread. Ultimately, what works to prevent COVID works for the flu, too. Masks, social distancing, good ventilation in indoor spaces, and isolating when sick are all crucial tools to prevent the spread of both viruses.
At-home COVID tests do still work, but not the way that most people think they do. First, they are much less reliable for asymptomatic people. A single negative test result for someone with no symptoms doesn’t mean much. They’re much more accurate for people who have symptoms, but even then, they may not be positive on the first test. The right way to use at-home COVID tests is to take two tests, at least 24 hours apart. Serial testing, as this method is called, drastically increases the accuracy of the test and the chances that it’ll correctly identify a positive case. For asymptomatic people, a third test 24 hours later brings that sensitivity up to almost certain.
Yes, but there’s hope that this year will be a bit different. Last year, the emergence of the Omicron variant coincided with holiday gatherings and travel. Nobody was prepared for Omicron because it escaped immunity so well. The variants that are circulating this year are different - they’re all Omicron subvariants and they’re not so good at escaping our immune responses, in part because so many of us have had Omicron by now. Couple that with updated Omicron-specific boosters, and we’re in a much better place than we were last year at this time. That said, COVID is still spreading and we’ll almost certainly see an increase over the next two months because of the holidays, so now is not the time to let up. Keep masking, go get your flu shot and booster, and stay home if you’re sick!
Lost Lessons of the 1918 Influenza: The 1920s Working Hypothesis, the Public Health Paradigm, and the Prevention of Deadly Pandemics | AJPH