Yes, there’s still confusion, misinformation, and disinformation clouding the subject of COVID. Matters get more complicated as we wade into the thick of cold and flu season, and the idea that some of us are just plain sick and tired of hearing about COVID. Hopefully, more tired than sick, though.
So what’s our risk of getting sick this season, and are runners any better off when it comes to staying well in the first place? To sort out the facts, we spoke with Dr. Kyle Ashland, a primary care sports medicine MD at Novant Health Lakeside Family Physicians – Prosperity Church.
For starters, thanks for the time, Dr. Ashland. So… what kind of cold and flu season are we expecting this year? And, do you feel it will be as complicated by COVID as in the last couple of years?
Dr. Ashland — We are already well into flu season which has hit us hard and fast. Thankfully, recent trends are pointing down. That being said, it is still early enough that we could have a second wave of the flu. Regarding whether it will be complicated by COVID, I may actually frame it the other way. The past couple of years our primary respiratory virus this time of year was COVID-19, and this is still the greater threat to public health in my opinion.
From what we’re reading from the CDC and NCDHHS, typical peak for flu season around here is around now and into February. Do you feel that will be the case this season?
Dr. Ashland — That was certainly the case in most years past. We’ve had one peak already, but that does not mean we will not have a second.
And about current COVID infection rates… We’ve read that some hospitals have already been postponing surgeries and elective procedures due to beds being used for COVID patients. Are we in better, worse, or about the same position to manage that versus the last couple of years?
Dr. Ashland — Generally speaking, we have some tools that we did not have in past years such as home test kits, oral antivirals, and readily available vaccines. We also have the experience of going through multiple waves in the past. Unfortunately, vaccine uptake has been poor this fall/winter and there is a lot of burnout throughout the healthcare industry.
At this point, most countries — even China — have relaxed travel restrictions in favor of “traveler surveillance,” some states are looking at all-out bans on future COVID restrictions, etc., yet it seems like EVERYONE knows someone who has COVID right now. As a public, have we just grown tired of this as a story? Are we happy to be “blissfully unaware,” or are we just ignoring the facts?
Dr. Ashland — This is a tremendously complicated issue. First, traveling surveillance by definition does not do much for infection prevention. When it comes to bans, etc., keep in mind that what is best for infection prevention may not go hand in hand with what is best for the economy or other considerations such as mental health; additionally, all of those are fluid situations and the best course of action for any given concern is not going to be the same in another month or year (or more!). Our lawmakers have very complex decisions to make with a lot of voices looking to be heard. Keeping in mind other issues going on in the world, I’m not surprised COVID-19 has taken a back seat in the news cycle.
Medically, COVID-19 is here to stay in some capacity. We know that there are waves that place you at a high risk of being exposed and therefore infected. Data is quite difficult for even experts to interpret due to a number of factors. More people are testing at home (good thing!) so a lot of infections go unreported (bad thing!). Wastewater is a useful tool, but cannot tell the whole story. Data quickly changes. I would highly recommend that individuals keep an eye on the data that is available to assess their level of risk.
Presuming our readers here are runners and attempting to take care of their health. Are they in any better shape when it comes to immunity? What should or can they do to protect themselves this season from cold and flu? And, is it too late to get a flu shot?
Dr. Ashland — We know that those who exercise regularly do get immune system benefits. That being said, it is possible that if you are habitually not adequately recovering from your training or have a particularly intense run (race) that you may temporarily have a weakened immune system. The best things you can do are common sense health practices – maintain good hygiene, wash your hands, consider wearing a mask (particularly in a crowded public indoor space during waves), keep a distance from those who are sick, and get your flu shot. It is certainly not too late to get your flu shot – I would try to get this done ASAP.
Lastly, on the subject of shots, should we get a COVID booster this year, and when?
Dr. Ashland — I would definitely recommend getting a COVID booster if you have not done so already. The bivalent booster has been out since September, and it is not too late to get this done provided you had your primary series done (a first booster is not mandatory to get the bivalent booster). For those who already got it done – thank you! Stay tuned for future recommendations.