Parents visiting children for the holdidays

The holiday season is just around the corner, bringing quality time with loved ones, festive feasts, and cherished traditions. However, it's also a prime time for respiratory viruses like COVID-19, RSV, and the flu. 

Vaccination is key

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention anticipates that this year will result in a similar number of hospitalizations as last year, potentially more than in pre-pandemic years. As of late October, respiratory virus activity is low nationally, with declines in COVID-19 cases but increases in RSV.

Health experts emphasize that vaccination is the best protection against serious outcomes, especially for high-risk individuals. Fully vaccinated individuals are less likely to become seriously ill or transmit the virus, contributing to a safer gathering environment.

"The good news is that we have a flu vaccine available for everyone over six months," said Maulin Soneji, MD, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Loma Linda University Health. "If you are vaccinated, you are less likely to seek medical attention, less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to need ICU care, less likely to need a ventilator, and less likely to die."

For RSV, a vaccine is available for adults 60 years or older, pregnant mothers, and antibodies for children. If you have questions about vaccines or their suitability, speak with your doctor.

Immunity typically grows over one or two weeks after inoculation, so people should consider that timing, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Stay home if you are experiencing symptoms

"Common symptoms include cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or fever," said Soneji.

If you or your guests have not been fully vaccinated or feel unwell, consider getting tested for COVID-19 before attending gatherings. Testing helps identify and isolate infected individuals, reducing the risk of transmission. 

"Another way to prevent the spread is to cover coughs and sneezes, wear masks, and wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds," said Soneji.

Limit Guest Count

Consider keeping your guest list small to minimize the risk of transmission. Smaller gatherings are easier to manage, allowing for better compliance with safety measures.

Whenever possible, opt for outdoor gatherings. Outdoor spaces provide better ventilation, which reduces the concentration of airborne particles.

If indoor gatherings are unavoidable, ensure good ventilation. Open windows and doors to improve airflow, and consider using air purifiers with HEPA filters to remove particles from the air. Adequate ventilation is crucial in reducing the risk of respiratory virus transmission.

This holiday season, it's possible to celebrate with loved ones while prioritizing health and safety. By following these guidelines, you can enjoy the festivities with peace of mind, knowing that you are taking steps to protect yourself and those around you.