Medical professionals across the U.S. are warning us that the combination of flu season, Covid and RSV is putting everyone at risk for getting sick. Preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control are that our population will have 27 million folks who get the flu this year. That is just the early estimate at the first phase of the season. It’s cold season too, and we’re not even counting that.
Lots of folks don’t get flu vaccines every year and they have no protection. Put that together with the many who have not been fully vaccinated against Covid, including the latest one, designed to stop the recent variant of the disease. Then there’s the contagious infection of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which affects adults as well as young children.
What can we do? It may be unlikely that you could persuade anyone who doesn’t believe in vaccines to get a flu or Covid shot. And some elders, who are most at risk for just about anything these days, don’t go out and get their vaccines, even if they think it’s probably a good idea to be vaccinated. There is apathy or lack of awareness, among other reasons for this.
Now holiday gatherings are being planned, and we’re told that travel expectations are back to pre-pandemic levels, at least. What this tells me is that our aging parents are likely going to be exposed to any or all of the three infections that are rising across the country. Regardless of your own ideas and beliefs about vaccinations, consider that elders don’t have the same immune response as younger people. What might be a mild infection in you could be life threatening for them. There are two things you can do to help prevent yourself from being the one who inadvertently put Grandma or your aging parent in the hospital because you exposed them to something you didn’t even know you had.
Here are the suggestions I have, given my Public Health Nurse background. I’m all about disease prevention and protection of the most vulnerable:
- Do your own Covid testing before you go anywhere to be with aging parents or other older loved ones. The home test takes 15 minutes. If you test positive, please don’t go anywhere until you test negative.
- Wear a mask on public transportation. Yes, mandatory masking is lifted in most places. But that doesn’t mean there is no infection floating around in the air. You can silently pick up an infection from anyone near you without knowing it and have it without symptoms. Even when you feel fine, if you are infected, you can spread that to any vulnerable person.
It would be very sad if your own aging loved ones got seriously ill just from being at a family dinner or other gathering. It could happen at your own holiday celebrations. You can’t stop infections from being out there and from being contagious to others. You can do these two very basic things to limit the risk of any one of the triple threats infecting your aging parents—test and mask. It may not be comfortable to wear a mask for hours on a plane. Having just experienced that personally, I get it. But I’m one of the aging parents, myself, and I just want to skip the flu, Covid and RSV if I can. I got my flu shot. I had my updated booster against Covid. So far, no illness from any of the lurking infectious bugs. I wish the same for you. May you remain healthy and smart this season.