‘I’m an Infectious Disease Doctor, and These Are the 5 Things I Always Do During Cold and Flu Season’

This year’s so-called “tripledemic”—a particularly bad season for COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)—has taken off with a vengeance, and no part of the country has been spared. Influenza cases in particular have skyrocketed, with many months of flu season still to go. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 9 million people in the U.S. have already gotten the flu, and 78,000 have been hospitalized (but all three of these viruses can turn serious for vulnerable people). If the sniffling and sneezing around you is any indication, common colds are also trending in the wrong, congested direction. So, preventing yourself and others from getting a cold, the flu, RSV, or COVID this season just makes sense.

The best ways are probably going to sound familiar, for better or worse. “Many of the habits we adopted (somewhat grudgingly at times) during the COVID pandemic will serve to protect us from a variety of illnesses during the coming months,” says Charles Bailey, MD, medical director for infection prevention at Providence St. Joseph and Providence Mission Hospital, in Orange County, CA.

No one is exposed more to viruses and germs than medical professionals serving on the front lines. You may not be able to eliminate your risk of catching a cold, the flu, or other viruses completely, but you can significantly reduce your chances with these pro tips.

1. Get vaccinated against the flu (and COVID, too)

To Dr. Bailey, this one’s a no-brainer. “Obviously, ensuring you are up-to-date on influenza and COVID-19 vaccination are important specific precautions you can take,” he says.

At a recent news conference, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that this year’s flu vaccine is a “very good match” to the viral strains currently circulating nationwide. This translates into pinpointed, targeted protection that can keep you from getting infected or hospitalized.

Over 90 percent of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists get vaccinated against the flu annually. So, if you really want to follow the science, it’s a good idea to roll up your sleeve (yet again) to get vaccinated as soon as you can. Remember, it takes two weeks before full protection from a vaccine kicks in.

2. Engage in frequent handwashing

Hand washing is imperative for preventing colds and flu, and the spread of germs. There is, however, a right way and wrong way to do this simple deed. Here’s how to practice hand hygiene like a medical pro:

  1. Use warm water and soap to scrub your hands.
  2. Wash all areas of your fingers and hands up to the wrist, for at least 15 to 20 seconds.
  3. Make sure to get under your fingernails and wash the spaces between each finger.
  4. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer when hand washing isn’t an option.
  5. Once cleaned, try to keep your hands away from your mouth and nose.

3. Sanitize phones and other devices

If your phone and computer are in constant use (and you know they are, c’mon), they’re literally crawling with germs. For that reason, experts at the Federal Communications Commission recommend practicing phone hygiene once per day.

To sanitize your devices, use a lint-free cloth that has been slightly dampened with soap and water. Don’t saturate your device with liquid or you could damage it. And, this goes without saying, but don’t attempt to clean it when it’s plugged in.

4. Avoid crowds as much as possible

Given the isolation of recent years, this one can be tough. To make it easier, try taking Dr. Bailey’s advice to avoid crowds whenever possible, especially if they’re in poorly ventilated, indoor spaces. This gives you the freedom to indulge in wintery fun outdoors with less worry (think holiday markets, ice skating, and window shopping with friends).

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