[Sept. 6, 2023 - New Tecumseth] - With cooler weather on the horizon, the official start of fall is only weeks away. As temperatures fall, there will be more time spent indoors in close contact to others, and with this can come ‘flu season’ marked by the spread of respiratory viruses such as Influenza, COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and the common cold.
Stevenson Memorial Hospital (SMH) wants to help individuals and families prepare for flu season and minimize the risk of contracting these viruses, by sharing some guidance and tips.
“There are several things we can do to help prepare for the onset of flu season and to decrease the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 and RSV,” says Dr. Barry Nathanson, Interim Chief of Staff, Stevenson Memorial Hospital. “A proactive approach is always a good defence against these viruses which we confidently anticipate will spike in the coming months,” he adds.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has the following information available related to preventative measures such as vaccines, hand hygiene, and masks, and what to do if you do become ill.
It’s always important to stay up to date with vaccinations including booster doses. Individuals are eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster if six months has passed since their last booster or COVID-19 infection. The fall season will be an ideal time to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or booster when an increased spread of the virus is expected.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has shared that new formulations of the COVID-19 vaccine are being developed for the fall to help protect individuals from the most current strains of the virus. It is predicted that these should be available in October.
The current flu vaccine has now been formulated. Stay tuned for information from public health or your health care provider as it typically comes available in October.
To maximize your protection, it is safe—and recommended by the CDC-- for both the flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine to be received at the same time.
We generally think of RSV as a risk for children under one year of age, but seniors are also at increased risk of severe illness caused by RSV. A vaccine has been authorized for use in Canada for the prevention of lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV in adults 60 years of age and older. We still do not have a vaccine against RSV to protect children, but there are treatments that can be given to babies at highest risk to help prevent RSV-related serious illness and complications.
Wash your hands often using proper hand hygiene. Washing with soap and water for at least 15 seconds will help keep COVID-19 and other viruses from making you sick and will prevent the spread of these viruses. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead.
Other preventative measures
Disinfect high touch surfaces in your home, such as doorknobs, tv remotes, and water taps. Try and spend more time outdoors where there is a lower risk of contracting or spreading viruses.
Personal Protective Equipment – mask
Wearing a mask, ideally an N-95 or properly fitting KN-95 mask, while in close contact with others and in crowded indoor spaces, does help protect you from contracting these viruses and does help stop their spread. Wearing a mask is strongly encouraged for anyone at a higher risk of infection, specifically those over age 60 and those who have high risk medical conditions or are immuno-compromised. We each now have the wherewithal to protect ourselves quite well, so please be kind and respectful of other individuals’ personal choices and private health decisions.
What to do if you get sick
Symptoms of the flu, COVID-19, RSV and the common cold can all be quite similar, so it is strongly recommended to complete COVID-19 testing if you develop symptoms such as, for example, sore throat, cough, congestion, and runny nose.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, please be respectful of others’ rights to health and safety. If you believe you have COVID-19 or if you test positive, stay home and self-isolate. Inform household members and close contacts.
Rapid antigen test kits are available for free at public health units (while supplies last). These are especially recommended for individuals who are at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, such as those over age 60 and those who have medical conditions or are immuno-compromised. An effective oral anti-viral medication called Paxlovid is available for these higher risk groups. Paxlovid must be taken early in the course of infection to be effective. So, do not delay testing and seek medical guidance quickly if your test is positive. Paxlovid is not suitable for everyone at high risk so medical guidance is very important if it is to be effective and safe.
For more information on how to receive an anti-viral treatment (such as Paxlovid), please contact your health care provider, including physician, nurse practitioner or a participating pharmacist or visit Ontario.ca
Guidance for Pregnant Individuals
Pregnant individuals have been shown to be at higher risk of important complications of the COVID-19 virus. COVID-19 vaccination has been shown to be safe and effective in this population. Influenza vaccination has also been shown to be safe and effective in pregnant individuals and helps protect the baby from influenza in the first several months after birth.
Where can I receive care?
If you are experiencing COVID-19, cold or flu symptoms and would like to receive care, the following care options are available:
Queens Health Centre Cough & Cold Walk-in Clinic
Alliston Walmart Walk-in Clinic - Jack Nathan Health
Angus Walk-in Clinic
Huronia Urgent Care Clinic
Wellington Walk-in Clinic
If symptoms persist and become severe, including difficulty breathing or chest pain, please visit your nearest Emergency Department or call 911.