After being in the Covid-19 pandemic for more than two years, experts are emphasizing the preventative measures that we should adopt long term in order to prevent contracting other viruses like the flu.
Wearing a mask, consistent hand washing, and regular testing/vaccinations have become a part of our new normal within the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, experts are recommending we keep a lot of these practices going to prevent other illnesses in the future such as the flu and other forms of influenza.
One of the best things we all can do to prevent getting sick in general is consistently washing our hands. Studies showed that before the pandemic only about 25% of people would wash their hands after using the bathroom. Now, hand washing has become second nature for most people.
Dr. Kerry Hancock, a general practitioner with a special interest in respiratory medicine, says “although it’s now known that Sars-CoV-2 mainly spreads through the air, hand hygiene is the cornerstone of infection prevention – and a simple way to cut transmission of other viruses and bacteria.”
“It’s such an easy thing to do, to keep washing or sanitizing our hands before we eat or touch things … but anecdotally I think people aren’t as fanatical about it as they were six months ago, at the peak of Covid cases.”
In addition to consistent hand washing experts also claim that wearing gloves to protect yourself from germs on surfaces is actually unnecessary. “People who wear gloves are less likely to wash their hands and may be increasing their risk because they think their hands are clean,” said Holly Seale, an infectious diseases expert.
Seale also recommends that everyone over the age of six months get the influenza vaccine annually, as it is protective against four strains of the virus. Especially being this deep into the pandemic, preventative measures against Covid have caused flu numbers to drop, however, it also means less people likely have kept up with their vaccinations, so it’s important to keep up so you have as much protection as possible.
The Covid-19 pandemic also emphasized the importance of staying home and isolating yourself when you feel sick. Professor Sheena Sullivan, an infectious disease epidemiologist, says that she hopes “employers will lead by example, which might mean helping staff work from home whenever possible, and addressing cultural barriers such as using sick days.”
“It became clear early in the pandemic that a lot of people who work with some of the most vulnerable in our communities are part of this large casualised workforce, who don’t have sick leave entitlements, and are disincentive from taking time off.”
Sullivan also explained how people should continue to wear masks whenever they can, but especially when they feel any sort of sick symptoms. This will not only help keep Covid under control, but other illnesses from spreading as well. “I work with people who understand viruses quite well so it’s an unusual environment – but there are people who, if they know someone in their family is unwell or they have symptoms themselves, they start wearing an N95 while they’re at work.”
“Employers should provide free surgical masks or respirators in case staff are caught out by newly developing respiratory symptoms while at work,” Seale suggested.
Hancock says “the best mask is a N95 respirator, fit tested and checked, and worn with the straps tied securely overhead. However, the best compromise for the public is a surgical mask to prevent transmission to others.”
Hancock also emphasized the importance of creating a plan for yourself should you fall ill at any point in the future, especially individuals with chronic health conditions. “My patients with asthma were being much more adherent to their preventer medication. They were really getting the message that if your asthma under control and along comes a virus – no matter if it’s Sars-Cov-2 or rhinovirus [the main cause of the common cold], you’re less likely to tip into an exacerbation.
It’s harder for people with other lung diseases, such as bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to control their disease … but all patients with chronic lung disease should have action plans written down, so they know how to recognize if they’re getting worse, if they need to up their meds or start another medication, if there’s a hotline they can call, or when to phone an ambulance.”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.