The upcoming cold and flu season promises to be complicated. Americans across the country are still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens to surge yet again in the coming fall and winter seasons, and despite mask mandates being lifted recently medical experts have urged all people, vaccinated or not, to continue wearing masks in public areas.
Shirin Peters, MD, founder of the Bethany Medical Clinic, spoke to HCPLive on what to expect in the coming cold and flu season, how the COVID-19 virus has influenced our precautions, and the implications of masks, and symptom management in the coming months.
HCPLive: What are the implications of stay-at-home orders that we had in the past 2 years? What should people be prepared for as we enter this new cold and flu season?
Dr. Peters: We should expect more severe symptoms from exposure to common upper respiratory infections, and more frequent symptoms as our immune systems are less likely able to fight off now-unfamiliar infections before symptoms set in.
HCPLive: What are the causes of seasonal allergies during the cold and flu season, and how can we properly manage symptoms? How do we stay informed and protected?
Dr. Peters: Causes of seasonal allergies in the fall are mainly pollen and mold, and in winter months the triggers are mostly indoor allergens like dust mites and pet dander. We can manage symptoms by reducing allergic triggers and by laundering fabrics (clothes and bedding) more frequently with hypoallergenic detergents such as Arm and Hammer Sensitive Skin.
HCPLive: How have our immune systems changed due to a lack of allergen/germ exposure during the Covid-19 pandemic? How have we benefited from social distancing and how have we become more vulnerable?
Dr. Peters: During covid quarantine, we have had limited outdoor allergen exposures from pollen, etc. But indoor allergen exposures have increased. Exposure to new infections viruses and bacteria has been limited and for this reason, we may expect an increase in common respiratory infections in the fall if we remain unmasked in public spaces.
HCPLive: A concern with the upcoming fall/winter seasons is that as it gets colder, more people will take to crowding into small, enclosed areas such as restaurants. What are some of the complications that can arise from this? How do we avoid mass exposure to germs/allergens during colder seasons?
Dr. Peters: Complications could be an increase in common respiratory infections and/or an increase in covid infection. Restarting the same precautions, we saw during last winter season will protect us again this winter season. This includes masking until being seated with your party at restaurants and continuing the outdoor dining setups that were effective last winter.
As mask restrictions loosen in some areas, an increase in summer colds and other respiratory illnesses is bound to occur, therefore, keeping a cold shortening product that contains Zinc, like Zicam, or an immune supplement such as Vitafusion Triple Immune Power on hand to proactively support yourself and others is advised.
HCPLive: The mask mandates have been lifted in most states in the US. What are your thoughts on masking up during the cold & flu season? Should people wear masks indoors/outdoors? Should masks be considered for this and future cold and flu seasons?
Dr. Peters: As of this past Tuesday, the CDC and most experts agree that people in areas with “substantial” or “high” rates of COVID-19 should resume wearing masks in public indoor spaces. This is because for the new Delta strain of COVID, vaccinated people who rarely become infected with COVID-19 vaccine (and do not show symptoms) were found to carry the same viral load as unvaccinated people who are infected with COVID-19 and symptomatic. So, it’s reasonable to assume vaccinated people can still be infected with COVID-19 (although they have no risk of severe covid illness themselves) and can transmit COVID-19 to others.