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Surges in flu, RSV and COVID threaten the holidays

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Those who still think about the pandemic will have a little more to work out this holiday season because holiday gatherings come amid surges in COVID and other respiratory viruses. Let's discuss this with Dr. Preeti Malani with the University of Michigan. Welcome to the program.

PREETI MALANI: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How concerned are you as we head into the end of the - the height of the holiday season?

MALANI: Well, I'm quite concerned. There's - we're seeing a lot of flu in the United States, and this rise is quite early.

INSKEEP: I want to be realistic, though, about what people can do. I mean, stating the obvious here - people have mostly stopped with the masks. People have mostly stopped avoiding gatherings. If that is the reality that you're going to show up at the family gathering and nobody's going to mask at that gathering, how can you reduce your risk?

MALANI: You know, there's a lot. I'm glad you asked. There's a lot that we can do. I want to just emphasize that we're not powerless. So washing your hands, covering your cough and getting a flu shot. Flu shot uptake has not been very good this year or last year, and they vary year to year in terms of effectiveness. But the sense is that this year's vaccine is actually a pretty good match to the strain circulating. And much like COVID vaccines, flu shots don't prevent all infections, but they can help prevent hospitalizations, deaths, as well as transmission. And again, it's not too late to get a flu shot. The other piece - and this has been socialized well during COVID - is to stay home if you're sick. And I think in the past, and myself included, we've gone to work sick, we've gone to school sick, we've sent our kids to school and day care sick. And this just can't happen. And hopefully we are also avoiding those big social gatherings if we're ill.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. And we're keeping kids home from school, even if it's not a positive COVID test. If they're sick about - with anything - if they're coughing with anything, they just need to stay home for a day and see how it goes. That's the right thing?

MALANI: Absolutely. And I want to also mention masks. And I - and again, I think we have learned how well masks work. And particularly if someone in your household is sick, if you're taking care of a young child, you know, that mask can help protect you...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MALANI: ...So that you can continue to be a caregiver and continue to run your household because flu is a - is - can be quite serious for people.

INSKEEP: Tell me if I'm doing the right thing here, as well. As I go through my time and as I travel, I'm thinking about whether I need to expose myself in a situation. I've traveled a few times recently. I'm face to face without a mask in meetings with people I'm going to see, but then I'm masking on the plane or in other places where I might be in a crowd because that just doesn't matter. Is - am I doing myself any good there?

MALANI: I do think you're doing yourself good. And we've all sort of figured out what the right balance is for us. And something I think about personally is disruption. As we're getting into the holidays, like, how bad would it be for me to get sick right now and to have my plans disrupted? But especially in crowded indoor spaces, whether it's on the subway or in an airplane, a lot of people who are sick around us right now. So, you know, put that mask on, keep it handy.

INSKEEP: How are you spending the holidays?

MALANI: How am I spending the holidays? Well, I'm going to be rounding at the University of Michigan. And I'm going to be home with my family. I'm very excited to be able to gather this year when we haven't been able to do it quite as normal the last couple of years.

INSKEEP: So this will be near a normal gathering for you and you'll go for it.

MALANI: Absolutely. Absolutely. But I'll remind people to stay home if they're sick. And I think, again, we have socialized that the last few years. And I - the gathering it will be large but it will be small enough that people will take precautions.

INSKEEP: Dr. Malani, I hope you and your family have a great time.

MALANI: As to you, Steve. Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: Dr. Preethi Malani is at the University of Michigan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.