Want to stay healthy over the holidays?

Harvard experts recommend vaccinations, ventilation and extra care for those who need it most.

As we gather for the holidays this year, it’s wise to note that spotlight-hogging COVID-19 isn’t the only virus circulating: Flu, RSV, and other culprits are causing serious illness, or worse, in young and old. are capable of being. Alike We asked Harvard experts to share their tips on ways to keep everyone healthy, and have lightly edited their answers for clarity.

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Kristin Moffitt, MD
Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist, Boston Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

Start with the kids: It is so important that babies and children be up-to-date about routine immunizations. Vaccine-preventable infections such as measles and polio have been able to re-emerge in recent years as vaccination rates have fallen below those needed to prevent the spread of these infections. Everyone over the age of 6 months is eligible to get the flu and COVID vaccines, which partially reduce the chance of becoming infected, and greatly reduce the chance of becoming seriously ill from these infections.

Across America, children’s hospitals, including emergency departments and inpatient units, are under tremendous stress at this time as high volumes of respiratory infections continue to spread through our communities. Reducing severe disease through vaccination will help conserve these resources for diseases that cannot be prevented with vaccines.

Involve adults: Respiratory viruses – flu, COVID, and RSV – can spread very efficiently in homes. The more members of a household who are up-to-date about the available flu and COVID vaccines, the less likely those viruses are to enter the home.

The same applies to gatherings of families and friends. People with a compromised immune system, medical conditions such as diabetes or obesity that put them at risk of serious infections, or very young infants are particularly susceptible to these infections. Vaccinating the people they come in close contact with helps protect them as well as the person getting vaccinated.

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Joseph Allen, DSC, MPH, DIH
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health
Director, Harvard Healthy Building Program

Improve ventilation for indoor gatherings: It all starts with recognizing COVID-19 and other airborne diseases like the flu that spread indoors in places with poor ventilation. If we start there, it’s easy to see simple steps we can take. Think ventilation, dilution and filtration. For example, we can help dilute the virus through ventilation by simply opening a window, and we can help filter out respiratory particles of the virus by using a portable air purifier with a HEPA filter.

Most people won’t get sick on an airplane: Really. When airplane systems are operating, they provide excellent ventilation and filtration. Think about it: In a surgical suit [where experts work to reduce the likelihood of infection], there are about 12 air changes per hour; in an airplane [with ventilation systems running]There are 20 air changes in an hour.

During boarding and after landing, this system is not always operating. So, if you’re concerned about getting sick during air travel, wear a high-grade mask when boarding and disembarking. All masks help, but not all masks are created equal: If you’re concerned about getting sick or are immunocompromised, wear a higher-grade mask like an N95, KN95, or KF94 that fits snugly over the bridge of your nose. Fit and snug with cheeks and chin. I personally feel very comfortable taking my mask off during flight.

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extra care for those who need it

Suzanne E. Salamon, MD
Associate Chief, Geriatric Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

COVID is not done yet: There are many opinions out there, but I think it is a mistake to think that we are done. There are still 300 COVID deaths every day in this country. As a geriatrician treating older patients, I have received more calls in recent months from people who have tested positive for COVID than I can remember.

A lot of people tell me that they are tired of it all, they just want to live life. I understood. But when I hear about 20 people coming from across the country, family and friends with different vaccination status and different mask rules, I think there’s a higher chance that someone got COVID.

Use caution around people who are especially vulnerable: My family includes my 100 year old mother who lives with us, and a 4 month old granddaughter whom I see often. That’s why I’m extremely cautious and take a more conservative approach than many people. Get vaccinated – and understand that it takes weeks for vaccines to reach their full potential. Take a COVID test before arriving at a gathering. Of course even repeated tests aren’t 100% reliable, so it’s safest to skip it if you have any symptoms of a cough or cold. If you do decide to go, wear a high-grade mask to help protect others. Sit away from more vulnerable people and take off your mask only while eating.

It sounds like a quick hug is fine as long as you don’t have any symptoms. While we can enjoy being together, small gatherings are best.


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