If there is one thing we learned from the pandemic or should have learned, it’s that control of viruses is only one part of public health.
If I tell you that we are in the midst of a bad respiratory virus season right now and advise you to take precautions, I must also tell you that isolation and excess reliance on social media has been shown to spread anxiety, fear and loathing. Indeed, loneliness is another kind of contagious pathogen.
When it comes to caution when gathering or traveling during the holiday season, I would point out that the COVID-19 JN.1 subvariant is spreading rapidly. I would ask you to perform a rapid test and stay at home if you are sick, to get vaccinated with the latest COVID-19 shot if you are elderly or have an underlying condition.
Also of concern is RSV, which is still prominent, and influenza, which is on the rise. I can help you differentiate between these viruses based on symptoms, whereas RSV is mostly sinus congestion and upper respiratory symptoms, flu, like COVID-19, may include headache, body aches, sore throat fatigue and fever.
A few weeks ago, the CDC put out an alert to health care providers about using the tools (vaccines, tests and treatments) we have against these viruses. I agreed with CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen who I interviewed on SiriusXM Doctor Radio, when she emphasized informing healthcare providers as opposed to governmental mandates or edicts aimed at the public.
She said, “Tis the season. … Right now, RSV is elevated across the country. We are probably near the peak of that season. For flu, it is rapidly increasing, so flu season started just before Thanksgiving and has been increasing ever since. … And for COVID, yes, we remain elevated. … We had 23,000 new COVID hospitalizations just last week, and more than a thousand COVID deaths. I know we all want to put this in the rearview mirror, but it is still here with us, and even within the past few weeks, we’ve seen the COVID virus change again.”
Of course, people will travel and gather anyway, and exchanging holiday cheer is healthy. I may still wear a mask on a plane or in the airport, but I shed it when I reach my destination.
No cell phones at the table please. Social media has been linked to the rise in anxiety and depression among our young. Now is the time to exhibit kindness and understanding, not divisiveness or strife born of political differences.
Exchange hugs (virtual or real) around the holiday table, and the oxytocin (happy hormone) you release will lead to a decrease in stress, blood pressure and risk for heart attack or stroke.
A recent study of 59 women showed those who frequently hugged their partners had lower blood pressure, and a 2012 study in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that couples who stayed together had higher levels of oxytocin than non-attached singles did. It turns out that bonding and generosity are healthy.
Exchange the deep emotions of fear and worry for the more positive emotions of courage, laughter, empathy and love. Come together with love and overcome the divisiveness of our times. Being caring and kind is also contagious, and remember, your kids are watching, they are modeling your emotional responses and kindness is one bug we all want them to catch.