As we enter the 2020-2021 flu season, Americans brace for the interaction between COVID-19 and the flu. Health officials still encourage everyone to practice proper hand hygiene, social distancing, and mask wearing when out in public. While these measures aim to protect people from COVID-19, they may also reduce the risk of contracting the flu.
According to epidemiologists at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), they braced for the South African winter flu season (summer in the northern hemisphere) that logged a minuscule amount of cases. Some clinics were closed or they were only open for COVID-19 cases, so some flu cases probably got overlooked. Nevertheless, the NICD logs an average of 700 cases during a typical winter flu season. The epidemiologists attribute the lower case rate to travel restrictions, school closures, social distancing, and mask wearing. This holds true for the flu season that happened in South America, New Zealand, and Australia. Additionally, Taiwan experienced a 75% decrease in influenza cases as a result of mask wearing and social distancing.
What’s In Store For The Northern Hemisphere?
As we know, the cold, flu, and COVID-19 are all respiratory viruses. There are some crossover symptoms and they are transmitted the same way: via infected respiratory droplets. Infectious disease experts stress the need to keep practicing social distancing. The reason for this is because respiratory droplets travel, but gravity pulls them down since they are heavier than airborne particles. The farther people are apart, the less likely it is for infected droplets to reach others. If people wear masks and maintain a six-foot distance when in public places, the chance of infection is much lower
Unfortunately, many cities and counties are not enforcing the necessary measures to keep everyone safe. Experts say this will increase the rate of co-infections, meaning people could contract both the common cold or flu and COVID-19 simultaneously. This phenomenon is considered rare because co-infection with the influenza virus is relatively low. Nevertheless, we must take precautions to reduce the number of flu cases, following in the footsteps of South Africa, New Zealand, and other countries in the southern hemisphere.
Masks Are Important
Health experts continue to stress the fact that you can spread COVID-19 even if you do not feel sick. This is why masks are important. In fact, they are intended to protect other people in case you are infected, especially if you are in a public setting where social distancing is difficult. It’s easy for community transmission to occur if people are close to each other without masks on. While we are talking about COVID-19, this same theory also applies to the common cold and flu. Masks act as barriers that prevent larger respiratory droplets from landing on others and causing infection. Masks alone will not prevent people from contracting the flu or common cold, but they may dramatically decrease the amount of flu or cold cases.
Wearing A Mask Properly
Most people wear masks incorrectly, primarily because they don’t want to wear them in the first place. They let their noses hang out, or they wear the mask around their chin. Both of these mask wearing techniques are ineffective and do not reduce your risk of contracting the flu, cold, or COVID-19. While there are different fabrics that keep out more respiratory droplets than others, the best mask is the kind that you wear over your mouth and nose. Wearing a mask incorrectly is like not wearing a mask at all. Masks need to fit snugly around the cheeks and down under the chin. Disposable masks are for single use only. If you wear reusable masks, only wear them for one day and then throw them in the laundry.
Clean And Disinfect
When you regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, you reduce the risk of contracting a virus from respiratory droplets that linger on those surfaces. High-touch surfaces include light switches, cabinet handles, doorknobs, countertops, phones, keyboards, faucets, and tables. You can use a diluted bleach solution or soap and water to effectively clean the areas.
In conclusion, if the northern hemisphere follows in the footsteps of the southern hemisphere, which just emerged from its flu season, we can expect reduced rates of flu and the common cold. As long as we take preventative measures, i.e. wash hands regularly, wear masks, and practice social distancing, we can have a less catastrophic flu season than we’ve ever had.