It's not just pumpkin spice season. It's seasonal illness season as well.
We've been dealing with colds and influenza forever, and now we have to be aware of and prepare for two more: COVID-19 and RSV (short for respiratory syncytial virus).
Immunizations for flu, COVID and RSV are in plentiful supply. If you haven't had your shots, that should be your first step in getting ready. Though they tip the odds in your favor, vaccinations don't necessarily keep you from getting sick. They do, however, lessen the length and severity of an infection, potentially saving school and work days.
Are you ready for whatever virus may hit you up and lay you low this fall? Here are some tips:
Replenish COVID tests
It's helpful to know exactly what you're dealing with. The flu and colds typically come on suddenly -- one day you're fine, the next day you have a sore throat and sniffles or start running a fever. RSV also has cold-like symptoms, but care must be taken because of the potential for lung infection.
COVID is sneakier. You could be exposed to the virus and not show symptoms until five to 10 days later. I recommend that, if you have cold symptoms that hang on for more than a few days, test yourself for COVID. If it's negative, test again in a few days.
The good news is that every U.S. household can again receive four free COVID tests from the government. Go to covidtests.gov to order yours. Also, if you have tests from last year, don't throw them away just yet. The FDA extended expiration dates on many brands of tests; the link to the information is also at covidtests.gov.
To keep from spreading illness through the household (particularly important if there are infants, older adults and anyone with weakened immune systems), or to keep viruses at bay entirely:
• Keep hand soap bottles filled in kitchen and bath, stock up on alcohol-based hand sanitizer and encourage frequent hand-washing.
• Replace cloth hand towels with disposable guest towels.
• Replace bathroom cups with paper ones.
• Regularly disinfect bathroom and kitchen surfaces, and if someone does get sick, it doesn't hurt to wipe down light switches and doorknobs.
• If you're caring for someone who's sick, get some disposable gloves and masks.
• And, of course, tissues that won't irritate sensitive noses.
Check the medicine cabinet
I often find that my clients don't know what meds they have or don't have. So double check for pain and fever reducers, as well as over-the-counter products to manage congestion and encourage rest in children as well as adults.
It's a good idea to also invest a few dollars in a digital thermometer so the household isn't sharing germs with the old-fashioned kind.
What's in the pantry and fridge?
Hydration is important all the time, but especially when you're sick. In addition to water, sports drinks like Gatorade, Popsicles, diluted juices or oral rehydration solutions like Pedialyte can be helpful.
People have different tolerances for solid food when they're sick. For some, it's tea and toast. For others, chicken soup and Saltines. Make sure the pantry contains some options that your family will be able to eat to keep up their nutrition.
Plan for sick days
Even if you don't get sick, you may need time off to care for someone else. Be sure you know what your employer's sick leave policies are and how to request sick days.
One of the good things to come out of the pandemic is employers' willingness to accept remote work and our comfort with the technology. If you can remain productive at work and still be home to care for sick kids, it's a win-win. Make sure you know how the technology works before the need arises!
Most seasonal illnesses go away within a week or so, and there isn't usually a need to call your doctor or visit an urgent care facility -- unless you have one of these symptoms:
A fever that remains high and doesn't come down.
• You can't keep anything down.
• Difficulty breathing or chest pain.
• A cough that won't go away.
• A severe headache that won't go away.
Do all you can to stay healthy and keep fall illnesses from becoming so severe that they require hospitalization. The hospital is about the last place you want to be with these fall viruses lurking everywhere!
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). Her book, "How to Be a Healthcare Advocate for Yourself & Your Loved Ones," is available on Amazon. She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (312) 788-2640 or email [email protected].