Maybe the only respite pandemic closures brought to my family ” which includes two kids under age 6 ” was freedom from the constant misery of dripping noses, sneezes and coughs. And statistics suggest we weren’t the only ones who had fewer colds last year: With daycares and in-person schools closed and widespread use of masks and hand sanitizer in most communities, cases of many seasonal respiratory infections went down, and flu cases dropped off a cliff.
That reprieve might be ending. Social mixing has been starting up again in much of the U.S. and so have cases of garden-variety sniffles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just warned physicians that RSV, a unpleasant respiratory virus, is surging right now in southern states.
My family is at the vanguard of this trend. Right after Washington D.C. lifted its mask mandate a few weeks ago, both my kids got runny noses and coughs, and as soon as they tested negative for COVID-19, my pandemic fears were replaced by a familiar dread. I had visions of sleepless, cough-filled nights, dirty tissues everywhere, and (in short order ) my own miserable cold.
“If someone in your house is sick, you’re not only breathing in their sick air, you’re touching those contaminated surfaces. You’re having closer contact, you’re having longer exposures,” says Seema Lakdawala, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who studies how influenza viruses transmit between people. It can start to feel inevitable that the whole family will get sick.
Take heart, my fellow parents-of-adorable-little-germ-machines! Lakdawala says many strategies we all picked up to fight COVID-19 can also stop the spread of many routine respiratory viruses. In fact, they may be even more effective against run-of-the-mill germs, since, unlike the viruses behind most colds, SARS-CoV2 was new to the human immune system.
Those strategies start with everyone keeping their children home from school, camp and playdates when they’re sick and keeping up with any and all vaccinations against childhood illnesses. Beyond that, specialists in infectious disease transmission I consulted offer five more tips for keeping my family and yours healthier this summer…