How to stay healthy during cold, flu and COVID-19 season

Winter is here, inflicting its usual array of symptoms — coughs, nasal congestion, fatigue and fever — and, this year, a new COVID-19 variant is dominating the scoreboard.

COVID-19 is leading hospital admissions among the respiratory viruses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, 25 U.S. states had high or very high levels for respiratory illnesses with fever, cough and other symptoms. That’s down from 37 states the week before, the CDC said.

Since the beginning of October, there have been at least 16 million illnesses, 180,000 hospitalizations, and 11,000 deaths from flu so far this season. The CDC said 47 children have died of flu.

January can be the worst month for these illnesses. With vaccination rates low, what can you do to protect yourself from respiratory viruses, including influenza, COVID-19 and RSV?

Back to basics

Hand-washing remains crucial to reducing the spread of viral infections. Take your time at the sink. Twenty seconds is recommended. If you feel silly singing “Happy Birthday” twice while you scrub with soapy water, count to 20. Slowly.

Use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol when you don’t have access to soap and water.

Also, wear a mask in crowded areas. Increase ventilation in your workplace and home.

Not too late to vaccinate

In the United States, only 17% of those eligible have received the updated COVID-19 vaccine, which provides good protection against the now-dominant JN.1 variant.

It’s not too late to roll up your sleeve. While you’re at it, make sure you’ve had your annual flu shot. Those 60 and older may want to get the RSV vaccine, which also is recommended during pregnancy to prevent RSV in infants.

  • January 22, 2024
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