November and December are festive months, full of gatherings with family and friends. These are also times of year when we can expect increases in respiratory viruses such as the flu, COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and others. Respiratory virus seasons can be mild or severe, and we can’t predict what kind of season 2023-2024 will be.
What does this mean for the holiday season this year? Alexy D. Arauz Boudreau, MD, MPH, a Mass General Brigham pediatrician, provides safety tips for those planning celebrations. Dr. Arauz Boudreau is associate chief of Pediatrics for Primary Care at Massachusetts General Hospital and medical director for Population Health Management at Mass General for Children.
Learn more about how to safely gather with loved ones to keep everyone as healthy as possible.
“Holiday gatherings create shared memories and bring together multiple generations. Often the more, the merrier,” says Dr. Arauz Boudreau. “Indoor settings are also the perfect environments to spread viruses. However, there are steps we can all take to keep our family and friends safer.”
Here’s how to reduce your risk of getting sick and help prevent the spread of illness:
Not at all! Get all the vaccines available to you as recommended by your doctor, including COVID-19, flu, and RSV vaccines. If you will be around a newborn baby over the holidays, get a Tdap vaccine if you’re not already up-to-date. Remember, if you’re vaccinated, you not only increase your own protection but also reduce the risk for those around you.
“For most of us, RSV results in a regular cold. However, for babies and those older than 60 , it can be very serious, even requiring care in a hospital like intubation,” explains Dr. Arauz Boudreau. Intubation is when a health care provider inserts a tube through a patient’s mouth or nose, into their trachea (windpipe). It helps air flow through the trachea.
“This is an exciting time in health care, as new RSV monoclonal antibodies have been approved to be given universally to infants younger than 8 months and high-risk children under 2 years of age,” says Dr. Arauz Boudreau. “These will lower their risk for severe RSV disease. However, supply shortages may make it harder for some families to get the monoclonal antibodies, so it is best to follow the precautions above.”
“It’s definitely not too late to get your vaccines — remember that vaccines protect you and those around you,” Dr. Arauz Boudreau confirms.
To find a COVID or flu vaccine location near you, visit vaccines.gov. You can also find an updated COVID vaccine location by texting your zip code to 438829 or calling 1-800-232-0233. Many retail pharmacies also offer the RSV vaccine, especially for adults ages 60 and older.
Many primary care and specialty offices across Mass General Brigham also offer COVID, flu, and RSV vaccines at regularly scheduled office visits.
The symptoms for COVID-19, flu, and RSV can be similar, which is why it’s important to stay home if you feel sick. Home testing for COVID-19 is encouraged if you have symptoms.
Otherwise, if your symptoms are mild, testing for flu or RSV is not necessary, as the treatments are the same: rest, fluids, and fever control. Grandma may have her own ways of treating you, such as chicken noodle soup.
Overlapping symptoms can include:
Seek medical attention if you or a loved one experiences symptoms like:
Learn more about RSV symptoms and treatment based on age.
Talk with your guests attending the event to align on the ground rules. This may look different according to each person’s health concerns and risks, personal preferences, whether or not the event can be held outside, and the number of people attending. Smaller gatherings can be lower risk than larger gatherings. Gatherings held outdoors are lower risk for spread than indoor gatherings.
“All this reduces your risk of spreading a virus,” explains Dr. Arauz Boudreau. “Smaller numbers mean fewer people to bring in a virus and being outdoors reduces the concentration of any viral particles that are circulating.”
Getting to zero risk is highly unlikely. Here’s how to minimize your risk:
It may take a little extra time and coordination, but planning ahead will ensure the best chance of a safe and healthy holiday. Cheers!