Written by Dr Aisha Harris
The last few years have been full of overlapping symptoms when it comes to the common cold, allergies, COVID, flu and more. This fall and winter will be no different as cold and flu (and now COVID) season is approaching.
Compared to the last few years, this season of respiratory infections will be more a part of our normal lives- in the sense that there is no federal emergency order recommending and regulating how we respond, manage and treat respiratory infections. This fall there will be increases in respiratory infections, which is part of the natural course of the calendar year because as the cold weather changes occur, it makes it easier to be infected by viruses.
Additionally, as more students are back in school and people are indoors more, it is easier to spread viruses from person to person and household to household.
Since the COVID-related federal emergency order has ended, there are less policies and regulations related to cold or flu-like symptoms and the risk of having a COVID infection. This means that as we get into the fall and winter seasons, we all have to collectively try to protect ourselves and others from respiratory infections in order to decrease spread and diseases.
Masks are not required, but they are still recommended if someone has symptoms like cough and runny nose and is around people outside of their household. Frequent hand washing continues to be recommended to wash away obvious and hidden dirt and germs to decrease spread of germs. Rest and hydration is recommended for all viral infections.
People should make an appointment with their primary care doctor if they are not feeling well and need medical evaluation. People should definitely see a medical doctor if they are experiencing severe weakness, shortness of breath or chest pain with their cold or flu-like symptoms.
Most viral infections are treated with symptomatic support to help decrease symptoms, but there are other options if symptoms are severe or persist.
It is important to understand that most respiratory infections are viral and not bacterial and do not require antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and not viral infections. The common cold, flu, and COVID infections are viral infections which are not treated with antibiotics.
If diagnosed early, those with flu and COVID infections can be treated with anti-viral medications, if criteria are met, to decrease symptoms, improve recovery and decrease complications.
Overall, those with viral infections will start to feel better after a week or two, but sometimes viral infections will increase someone’s risks of getting pneumonia which is a more serious lung infection that can cause hospitalizations and difficulty breathing.
To decrease the risk of getting or spreading viral infections such as the common cold, flu and COVID, it is recommended that people frequently wash their hands, wear a mask if not feeling well and get vaccinated against the flu and COVID infections this fall and winter.
Viruses will continue to be around in our lives, but we can take simple steps to decrease our risk of infections and decrease spread overall.
Everyone is at risk of getting a respiratory infection, but there are high-risk populations who are at increased risk of complications or hospitalizations due to respiratory infection.
Take the time to protect yourself and be aware of the next steps if you are not feeling well and think you have a respiratory infection. If you have cold or flu-like symptoms, contact your medical doctor, stay hydrated and treat your symptoms as needed. The common cold, flu and COVID infections will increase this fall and winter. We will have a different experience this season from last year’s season due to the emergency order related to COVID ending, but viral infections were here before COVID and will continue to be around in our homes and community. So, we must be prepared, protective and proactive about noticing symptoms, preventing symptoms and getting the care we need for viral infections.
Dr Aisha Harris, MD, is a Flint native and board-certified family medicine doctor at Harris Family Health in Flint, Michigan. Harris Family Health is a membership-based clinic that provides personalized and full primary care to adults and children. Learn more about Harris Family Health by visiting www.harrisfamilyhealth.com. Feel free to submit health questions to Dr Harris via firstname.lastname@example.org.