"JennyFar-Lifestyles & Wellness Blog" Remedies So you’re sick during the holidays now what? CDC director talks masking, COVID, respiratory viruses and more. – Yahoo Life

So you’re sick during the holidays now what? CDC director talks masking, COVID, respiratory viruses and more. – Yahoo Life

You’ve wrapped up the presents and those last-minute holiday errands when all of a sudden you start to feel some not-so-merry symptoms like a cough, sore throat or fever. With respiratory virus season in full swing, Yahoo Life spoke with Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for the latest info on what to do if you get COVID, flu or RSV. Here’s how to focus on getting better — and not spreading your bug to your loved ones.

You’re sick during the holidays — now what?

If you feel yourself coming down with something days before Christmas or that big New Year’s Eve party, here’s what you should do:

  • Get tested. Cohen says getting tested is an important first step so that you’ll know what you’re dealing with and how long you might be contagious, and so you can get treatment if you need it. Every household in the U.S. has been eligible for a total of eight free at-home COVID tests since September. They’re available to order online here.

  • Get treatment. Treatments are available for flu, COVID and pneumonia, but they tend to be most effective when taken early on. “We want to make sure that folks are utilizing treatment. I think treatment is still underutilized,” Cohen says. “Particularly if you are a senior, make sure you’re getting tested and know what you have, because treatment can save your life.” The newly expanded federal Home Test to Treat program offers free telehealth care and (if prescribed) free medication delivered to the home of any adult with a current positive COVID or flu test.

  • Stay home. “If you get sick during this holiday season — I know this is going to be a hard request — but if you get sick, you need to stay home. Please don’t share your germs with others,” Cohen says. How long you should stay away from others depends on what you have. If it’s the flu, the CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. If it’s COVID, how long you should isolate depends on several factors, including whether you’ve had symptoms and how severe your illness has been. The CDC has a full breakdown here.

Do I really need to mask up?

In a video message recently posted on X (formerly known as Twitter), Cohen said Americans should “take the steps that we do every year to protect ourselves.”

“Use additional layers of protection, like avoiding people who are sick, washing your hands, improving ventilation and wearing a mask,” she said. But it was the mask comment that received extra pushback online, with some interpreting her remark to mean the CDC was encouraging widespread masking again.

When asked if mask mandates could make a comeback, Cohen told Yahoo Life she thinks “we’re in a different place than we’ve been before.” Instead, she said, masking is just one additional tool that can be used in tandem with other things like good hygiene, socializing outdoors and getting vaccinated. People can determine for themselves whether wearing a mask may be a good idea by assessing their own personal risk — and the risk of those they may be socializing with. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Am I older or visiting someone who is older and more at-risk of complications if they get sick?

  • Am I visiting a crowded place, like an airport?

  • Do I have an underlying medical condition, or am I visiting someone who’s immunocompromised, such as a relative who’s fighting cancer?

  • Is there a lot of virus circulating in my area?

“Certainly if you are at higher risk, you want to do as many of those layers of protection as you can,” Cohen says of wearing a mask. “But those folks who are at lower risk will make different kinds of decisions based on who they are and their risk.”

Cases of respiratory viruses are increasing — should we be worried?

Cohen says cases of RSV appear to be peaking for the season, though COVID and flu cases are still rising — “so we’re going to see more and more of that as we get deeper into December and into January.” But even if it feels like everyone around you is sick, so far we’re seeing a pretty typical respiratory virus season that’s no better or worse than expected.

“We expected to see more viruses, we expected to see more COVID and flu and RSV, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing,” Cohen says. “I think we are still too early in the season to really compare to last year to characterize whether this is a bad season or not. What I’d say [is that] right now is pretty typical.”

COVID continues to be the virus driving most hospitalizations and deaths, though flu is “quickly catching up.” And though China has experienced an alarming increase in respiratory virus hospitalizations, Cohen says there’s no evidence that it’s due to a new virus.

“We are constantly monitoring around the world to make sure we’re understanding what health threats are out there,” Cohen says. “What we can say right now is that we’re not seeing any new or novel viruses or bacteria. What we’re seeing around the world is pretty typical for this time of year — which is more viruses that we know, more bacteria that we know.”

COVID keeps mutating — what does that mean?

COVID keeps changing and producing more subvariants of the virus — like JN.1, which is now the fastest-growing variant in the country. But Cohen says that while newer variants do appear to be more transmissible — meaning easier to pass from person to person — they don’t seem to be growing any more dangerous.

“It doesn’t seem to be more severe, so it doesn’t seem to be making people more sick. But it is spreading more quickly,” Cohen says. “But the good news is our tests can pick it up, our treatment can cover it and, importantly, our vaccination looks like it still has good coverage when we tested it in the lab.”

A refresher on staying healthy this season

Cohen also shared some tips before Thanksgiving that can help prevent illness through the new year and respiratory virus season — and beyond.

  • Wash your hands. Keep your hands clean — especially before, during and after preparing or eating food.

  • Improve ventilation. Opening windows and doors or socializing outside can help reduce airborne contaminants.

  • Wear a mask. Assess your personal risk and the risk level of those you’re with to determine when a mask may be a good idea.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Get plenty of sleep every night, and eat a healthy diet.

  • Get vaccinated. Everyone ages 6 months and up can get the updated COVID vaccine and flu shot, and the RSV vaccine is available for those over age 60. COVID shots are covered by most insurance or are free through programs run by the CDC.

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