With the temperature dropping, days getting shorter, and the leaves changing color, it can all only mean one thing, fall is upon us. To many people the beginning of fall means dressing up in fun costumes, eating tasty seasonal treats, and picking out a good pumpkin to carve. Unfortunately, the month of October brings some “tricks” along with those treats. Those tricks of course being new strains of the influenza and cold viruses. Last year saw a record low number of flu cases with only 2,038 cases reported by public health and clinical laboratories between September 2020 and April 2021, according to the CDC. However, this drastic dip in cases was in large part due to a year of strict social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Although coronavirus still remains a present threat, many of the same regulations and safety measures put in place last year to mitigate its spread have since been removed. With many of these COVID-19 regulations no longer in place, such as social distancing, health experts and physicians around the country expect a significant surge in cold and flu cases for the 2021-2022 flu season. One recent study, conducted by Kyueun Lee a postdoctoral researcher at Pitt Public Health, simulated influenza epidemics and levels of population immunity to flu over multiple seasons using data from 2009 through 2020. The study used a mathematical model called the SEIR model to estimate how many new cases of the flu virus may occur. The results were shocking, as the model projected, with the low flu activity seen in the 2020-2021 season, flu hospitalizations would surge to 610,000 in 2021-2022. This is 102,000 more hospitalizations than what the 2020-2021 season would have been projected to have had their been normal levels of flu activity.
This news may sound discouraging or even frightening to many people. However, the study also found that the predicted increase in hospitalizations due to flu could be avoided if the vaccination rate increased from 50% to 75% across the country. In addition to getting the vaccine, there are many other precautionary measures we can all take to decrease the spread of the flu/common cold this fall. Scheduling regular health screenings with your primary doctor can be another great step in taking preventative measures to stay healthy this fall. Even if you feel perfectly fine, visiting your doctor for a general checkup can help you game plan for the coming cold/flu season more effectively by giving you personalized preventative strategies based on your overall health.
In addition to regularly visiting a doctor, the CDC recommends maintaining good personal hygiene such as washing your hands, showering on a regular basis, and brushing your teeth as other tips to stay healthy during flu season. Practicing good personal hygiene prevents the spread of germs that could potentially make you or people around you sick. Social distancing and wearing a cloth face covering can also be great preventative measures against the common cold/flu as they reduce the transmission of virus droplets that may infect others. Additionally, taking care of your body by getting enough sleep and drinking water instead of alcohol or sugary beverages can be great ways to reduce inflammation and improve your bodies immune response. High levels of inflammation in the body weaken your immune system and increase the likelihood of you getting sick. Other ways of boosting your immunity include exercising regularly, taking vitamin supplements, and eating a healthy nutrient-rich diet.
Whether you are taking precautions such as wearing a mask in public spaces, following a healthy lifestyle, or getting the flu vaccine, there are many ways to combat the spread of cold and flu viruses. Although many people will encounter some form of cold or flu virus this fall and winter, taking some of these precautions in addition to living a healthy lifestyle can help us all enjoy more treats and less “tricks”.