What is the best way to fight winter viruses?

COVID no longer makes the daily headlines, but like the flu and other common viruses, it hasn't gone away.

"I'm seeing a lot of COVID," said Dr. Zoheb Osman, DO, of AdventHealth Medical Group Family Medicine in Hinsdale. He said patients are presenting with a wide variety of symptoms, including sore throat, earaches and loss of taste and smell.

Thankfully, Osman said, the symptoms tend to be mild in most people. That's because as the COVID virus continues to mutate, it grows weaker. It also becomes more easily spread, and therefore, more prevalent.

COVID, colds and flu tend to peak in fall and winter. Getting vaccinated against COVID and flu can help keep people healthy.

"I do recommend that people get their flu shot," said Osman, as well as a COVID booster if needed. Currently, a COVID booster is recommended every six months. Eventually, Osman said, he hopes to see the vaccine become an annual shot, like the flu shot.

"It doesn't prevent the infection," he said, but will make symptoms milder if the virus is contracted. It's fine to get both at the same appointment, he said.

"I just recommend getting one in each arm."

While the COVID vaccine won't prevent a person from contracting the virus, it will keep symptoms from becoming severe, Osman said.

COVID, cold and flu aren't the only viruses lurking about this time of year. As people with cold and flu-like symptoms enter his office, Osman often performs a triple-swab test to look for flu, COVID and respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV. RSV is particularly dangerous to young children, some of whom will require hospitalization.

"Adults are asymptomatic carriers," he said.

Along with testing, adults can help to protect the young people in their lives by frequently washing their hands, and by encouraging children to do so, too. When hand washing isn't an easy option, hand sanitizer is.

"It's just another way to effectively prevent transmission," he said.

And because young children tend to put everything in their mouths, it's a good idea to wash toys and other frequently touched surfaces often.

After hand washing and covering sneezes and coughs, Osman said communication is the next important tool in the winter wellness toolbox. If someone in the family becomes ill, tell those who might have been exposed, Osman said. It's also important to stay home if you're sick.

Osman suggests keeping COVID test kits on hand, and using them whenever someone has a fever higher than 100.4 degrees, a sore throat or loss of taste or smell. A negative test should be repeated each day for several days, and a positive test should be shared with everyone with whom the infected person has had contact.

"It's a new way of life," Osman said, and one that isn't likely to go away.

That new way of life includes an inherent risk of infection in any gathering of people, and with the holidays approaching, those gatherings are likely to become more frequent.

But Osman said a few precautions, such as frequent hand washing and staying home when you don't feel well, can keep the season bright for everyone.

"Don't lose the holiday spirit," he said, "But be safe."

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean