The signs are everywhere: a co-worker coughing in the next cubicle, a Publix shopping cart full of used tissues when you grab it in the parking lot, and the dreaded call to pick up your kid with the runny nose to school.
It seems that everyone is sick, and the situation will only get worse as tourists arrive in Florida, bringing viruses with them.
The number of flu cases and emergency room visits is already on the rise in the state, according to the florida flu review until October 29. Nationwide, flu season came about six weeks earlier than usual this year with an unusually high rate of illness.
With the flu, COVID, or other viruses spreading at the same time, it pays to take precautions and even talk a bit if you need to.
Here are steps Floridians can take to stay healthy in the months ahead.
Flu cases are already on the rise and the peak of the season has yet to begin. Now is the time to get your flu shot, but keep your expectations in check.
Many strains of the influenza virus circulate each season, and vaccine formulations are revised annually to provide optimal protection. But flu viruses are constantly mutating. This means that sometimes the strains the flu vaccine is designed for are not the same as the ones circulating in a particular season.
In general, vaccines tend to work better against illnesses caused by influenza B. Dr. Emily Martin, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health told the New York Times the shots are less effective against a subset of influenza A viruses known by the scientific name H3N2 because those virus strains mutate much faster. Unfortunately, that’s the current predominant strain in Florida, according to the Oct. 29 Florida Flu Report.
Still, if you get the flu after getting a flu shot, experts say the shot can help lessen symptoms.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for protective antibodies to develop. “There are multiple formulations depending on age and risk factors,” said Dr. Joanna L. Drowos, an associate professor of family medicine at Florida Atlantic University.
Nasal mist: The nasal spray contains a live virus that has been weakened and is available to anyone between the ages of 2 and 49. “You get a stronger immune response from a live virus,” Drowos said. “But you have to be careful who you surround yourself with afterwards because you can remove the live virus from your nose.” Pregnant women are advised not to receive this type of vaccine.
High-dose flu vaccine: The Food and Drug Administration has approved a high-dose flu vaccine for people 65 and older, with four times the amount of antigens compared to a normal dose.
Intradermal: A flu shot is usually injected into the muscles of the arm, but this shot uses a much smaller needle that goes just under the top layer of skin. It’s helpful if you’re afraid of needles, but side effects are more common.
Seasonal flu vaccine: This is the most common type of flu vaccine. You may experience some pain or slight swelling around the injection site. The vaccine is designed to inactivate or change the flu virus so that you can’t get the flu from the shot.
“I’ve seen people die from the flu,” said Dr. Aniruddh Setya, a pediatric gastroenterologist at KIDZ Medical Services in Hollywood. “People ask, ‘how can you die from the flu?’ You really can die. But if you’re vaccinated and you get the flu, you probably won’t get that bad.”
Setya of KIDZ Medical Services said she had seen four cases of the flu in her office on November 3. He is also seeing flu symptoms like cough and congestion with the added bonus of diarrhea.
“The same insect that causes respiratory illness is causing diarrhea in children,” he said. “That is why it is so important to wash your hands. Don’t relax with hand washing.”
Setya says Floridians should go back to using hand sanitizer like they did during the height of the pandemic. He recommends sending his son to school with hand sanitizer, planting hand sanitizer around his house and keeping a bottle by the door to use when he comes in. “People have stopped using disinfectant and they need to use it.”
Most people don’t realize that office kitchens are often a breeding ground for viruses, especially common touch surfaces like microwave and refrigerator door handles. If many people at work are sick, try to stay out of the office kitchen.
If a coworker is sobbing, coughing, or showing signs of the flu, consider asking them to go home, or at least encourage them to cover their mouth. If you are not going home, try to stay at least 6 feet apart and use plenty of hand sanitizer throughout the day. You may also want to clean your keyboard regularly.
During flu season, try to avoid shaking hands or giving a high 5. Post-COVID, most people understand and will be willing to fist bump.
The Christmas holidays are back this year and nobody wants to miss them. Hopefully, people will choose to meet outside in Florida, where the weather is nice this time of year. But if you find yourself in a crowd, find an open window or stand where it’s well ventilated, Setya says.
If you’re going to gatherings where guests are shoulder to shoulder, see if there’s a patio.
If you’re hosting an event, make sure you have clean air filters and, when possible, the option for guests to go outside.
COVID continues to wreak havoc on the lives of thousands of Floridians each day. The experts fear another wave of winter may be arriving, just in time for the holidays.
No one knows for sure how long immunity from a recent infection lasts. If you’re planning to travel or get together with family or friends this holiday season, consider getting an Omicron booster. The immune response takes a week or two to develop, and should remain strong for at least two months.
“Getting backup is the easiest and best way to meet people and not endanger them or yourself,” Setya said.
The booster now gives you not only the original strain of the COVID infection, but also gives you the BA.4 and BA.5 variants. Some experts have said they are hopeful that the new bivalent vaccine will resist the new Omicron sub-variants that are gaining ground in the United States.
So if you’re going to get a booster, which one should you get? Pfizer, Moderna or the new Novovax?
Novavax COVID boosters are approved for adults in the US, including people who received injections from Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson as their primary series. You can receive a Novavax booster six months after your primary series if you are 18 years of age or older. Novavax injections use conventional technology common in other vaccines rather than the new messenger RNA platform used by Pfizer and Moderna. Some people feel more comfortable with that option.
Regardless of whether your original series were shots from Moderna or Pfizer, your new booster can be either. Studies in people given the above booster schedule mix made no difference. Both brands generated similar antibodies to fight viruses. It’s too early to tell if mixing the brand with the Omicron booster makes a difference to immunity levels.
Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, stay hydrated, get fresh air and exercise regularly to be in a position to fight off viruses, says Dr. T’anjuihsien Marx, regional medical director of MD Now urgent carewith 66 clinics in Florida.
“He sleeps a lot during the winter months,” says Marx. “Getting a good night’s rest is a great defense against getting sick.”
“There are ways to prime our own immune systems,” he said. “Try to make sure you’re as healthy as possible, and if you have chronic medical conditions, make sure they’re well controlled.”
He recommends taking vitamin C and a daily multivitamin.
Rapid tests are back on store shelves, so stock up. Frequent testing can help prevent the unknowing spread of the virus at holiday gatherings and help you know if your sore throat is COVID or something else. Infectious disease doctors believe rapid tests should still pick up the new variants, since all of the ones spreading right now are relatives of Omicron.
If it’s negative but have symptoms of COVID-19 such as a sore throat, cough, and body aches, retest in a day or two. “With this variant, what I see is a delay in testing positive,” FAU’s Drowos said. “Staying away from others if you have symptoms is the best thing to do.”
Nobody wants to miss an important event because they’re sick, and it’s never a good idea to show up at a meeting sneezing or coughing.
The latest health news, exercise science, and nutritional updates to help you live longer and better.
This winter, that may require a bit of planning ahead. Avoid high-risk settings, such as crowded indoor events, during the week leading up to the holiday or special event. Also consider wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, like shopping malls, and schedule trips to the grocery store for when it’s less crowded, like early in the morning.
Taking precautions is especially important if you live in an area where new COVID cases are increasing.
Masks are no longer required for most trips, but doctors recommend wearing one during at least certain parts of your trip.
Most planes have HEPA filters similar to those used in hospitals, so air quality on planes is better than on buses and trains. But you are at risk in the crowded airport, on the hanger while boarding, and when your plane is taxiing, as the filtration systems may not turn on when the plane is on the ground.
If you ride the bus or train or get into an Uber, it’s a good idea to wear a mask at all times.
If the person next to you on a plane or in the airport is coughing, put on the mask, says Marx. “They should do the same, but they might not, so at least you’ll have yours on to protect yourself.”
Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at email@example.com.