COVID, Flu A/B and RSV: What Are the Risks for Christmas and New Year Holidays?
Just as the world is preparing for its first “normal” Christmas and New Year holidays in the past two years, experts are urging caution over festivities and family gatherings. While the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays may be more alluring than ever after two years of strict restrictions on events and gatherings, the removal of pandemic measures combined with the subsequent circulation of various infections, including COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continues to raise concern. Should you cancel your holiday plans? Read along to learn more about the risks for the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays and how to protect yourself this winter season.
What are the risks?
While it is normal for many respiratory viruses to circulate primarily during the colder months, influenza and RSV cases have risen earlier than expected this year and already reached unusually high levels. In fact, outbreaks of influenza and RSV cases are already beginning to cause capacity issues in many hospitals around the world. As children are among the most affected groups, pediatric hospitals are also heavily burdened with increasing numbers of RSV and influenza. If these issues persist, they could overwhelm the healthcare systems, exhaust the available resources, and disrupt the administration of care and services to those who need them.
Alongside the disruptions in the seasonal patterns of infections, experts also draw attention to the immunity gap resulting from two years of pandemic measures, which leaves many adults and children with insufficient levels of immunity against influenza and RSV. Even though these infections cause mild symptoms in most people, this immunity gap, combined with escalations in rates of infection, could increase the risk of severe disease and death. Together with insufficient immunity levels and the potential exhaustion of medical systems, the circulation of these viruses could have serious consequences, especially for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, immunocompromised people, and those with underlying health conditions.
In addition, experts highlight that COVID-19 remains among the most prominent concerns this holiday season. Despite the efficacy of vaccine-induced and infection-induced immunity, unchecked escalation of COVID-19 infections among large populations could pose a significant threat to infection control and management efforts, overwhelm healthcare systems, put susceptible groups at higher risk of severe disease, trigger the emergence of novel mutations of SARS-CoV-2, and increase COVID-linked deaths.
Should you cancel your holiday plans?
There are no restrictions on indoor gatherings and public events this year. However, as COVID-19 infection levels rise, hospital admissions with influenza increase, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cause severe disease, especially in children; experts advise people who feel unwell with flu-like symptoms to stay at home. It is also essential to reduce contact with other people as much as possible if you are unwell to help prevent the transmission of infections throughout the Christmas and New Year period.
Which symptoms should you look out for?
Although slight, there are certain differences among the clinical presentations of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV that could help you identify the virus you are most likely infected with. Appearing 2-14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2, symptoms of COVID-19 often include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, loss of taste and/or smell, fatigue, muscle pain, and headaches. Influenza usually presents with similar symptoms such as fever, chills, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, myalgia, fatigue, and headache within an onset of 1 to 2 days. Children infected with influenza can also experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Among these infections, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) often causes the mildest infections in healthy adults. With symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, cough, fever, wheezing, and decreased appetite, most people infected with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) recover shortly without medical assistance. However, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can cause serious lower respiratory tract infections in young children.
However, the differences between the symptoms and onsets of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV are often insufficient for the differentiation of these infections. Thus, diagnostic tests detecting viral nucleic acids and antigens are widely used for the diagnosis of COVID-19, influenza, RSV, and other infections with similar symptoms. Our RapidFor™ SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Antigen Test Kits, Influenza A/B Rapid Test Kit, and RSV Rapid Test Kit offer a quick, convenient, and accurate method to check for these viruses in various sample types. On the other hand, multiplex assays, such as our RapidFor™ SARS-CoV-2 & FLU A/B Antigen Combo Test Kit and SARS-CoV-2 + Flu A/B + RSV Combo Rapid Test Kit simultaneously detects and differentiates infections with COVID-19, influenza, and RSV. Finally, you can also consider getting a serological test to determine the level of vaccine-induced or infection-induced immunity against COVID-19. Our RapidFor™ SARS-CoV-2 Rapid IgG/IgM Test Kit and RapidFor™ SARS-CoV-2 Neutralizing Antibody Test Kit help detect past or previous infections with SARS-CoV-2 and check for the immunity level against the virus.
What can you do to protect yourself and others this holiday season?
The primary precaution that can be taken against these infections is resting at home and avoiding contact with other people if you feel unwell. If you suspect that you may be infected, you can also reach out to your healthcare provider or consider purchasing an at-home test. For COVID-19 and influenza, vaccination is also critical for the prevention of severe disease. Make sure to stay up to date with vaccines and boosters to ensure sufficient and prolonged protection against COVID-19. You can also get the seasonal influenza vaccine to increase your immunity level against the virus. Following basic hygiene rules is also important for the prevention of infection and transmission. Please catch coughs and sneezes in disposable tissues, make sure to eat with clean hands, and wash your hands with water and soap when you return home. Finally, you can consider wearing face masks in crowded indoor places with poor ventilation to reduce the risk of infection.