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It’s the Holiday Season: Health Update from the IAFC

The IAFC is dedicated to serving our members and promoting safe communities. This is particularly important as we are challenged by a season of infectious diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting a very significant uptick in cases of influenza in all age groups, and in a pediatric respiratory infection called RSV. Both are causing healthy people to get sick enough to require a visit to the Emergency Department, and in thousands of cases a day, a stay in the hospital. There is also an increase in the variants of COVID that are currently circulating in the US and Canada.

As we enter the holiday season, it is particularly important to keep firefighters and their families in good health. This is the time when fire activity, and EMS demands, increase significantly. The community needs our fire and EMS personnel healthy, and able to serve!

What are the best ways to stay healthy over the coming months?

Reduce exposures where possible. Don’t come to work sick and encourage others who are ill to stay home and isolate until healthy. Stay six feet away from others who are ill. Use good practices when preparing foods, particularly around raw meats. Wash your hands frequently and keep hands away from your mouth and face.

Two of the biggest diseases of this season have very effective vaccines.

The flu season has started very early and is widespread in many parts of the country. The influenza vaccine is an excellent match to the influenza A that is the most common type so far.

The flu is worse than the common cold, with more symptoms, and has a greater threat for serious complications.

Common symptoms of the flu are:

  • Fever
  • Headache and muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Nonproductive cough
  • Poor appetite
  • Headache

Influenza vaccines are available in many physician offices, in pharmacies, and in public health sites. They are so effective that most insurances cover the cost completely. Check the public health website in your region for the sites where the vaccines are available.

COVID is spreading again, with a variant that so far is not causing serious illness in those who have been vaccinated. An updated bivalent COVID vaccine has proven even more effective.

The CDC and many medical organizations recommend the COVID vaccine across all ages. All current forms of the vaccine reduce the risk of serious disease, death, hospitalization, and “long COVID”. Since most Americans have already received their first vaccines, the CDC recommends that people ages 5 years and older receive one updated (bivalent) booster. Any form of the COVID vaccine is still available for free!

Finding any form of a COVID vaccine is as simple as this:

  • Search vaccines.gov
  • Or text your zip code to 438829
  • Or call 1-800-232-0233

Since COVID is still circulating, people may be exposed to COVID during their work, school, or daily activities. If someone is exposed to COVID, he or she should start precautions that continue for 10 days:

  • Wear a mask around others inside your home or indoors in public
  • Watch for symptoms. If symptoms develop, isolate immediately and get tested
  • Get tested at least 5 full days after the last exposure (even without symptoms). If the test is positive, isolate immediately, and notify those who have been around you that you have tested positive.

The Federal government is no longer mailing free COVID tests to people’s homes. But there are plenty of home tests that are available for free from local health departments, and at low cost from many local pharmacies. If you have health insurance through an employer or Marketplace, your insurance will pay you back for 8 at-⁠home tests each month for each person on your plan. Up to date information on COVID testing is available at covid.gov/tests

Masks are not required in most jurisdictions, but many people at risk are still wearing them in public settings. Please recognize that these individuals still may be concerned about their personal health (and some have underlying medical issues) and feel more comfortable maintaining a social distance and/or wearing a mask.

The work continues to protect fire and EMS personnel from health risks that go along with this important job.

Follow the Department policy on the use of PPE. Most are still using protection, including N-95, around patients with respiratory illnesses. A simple mask on the patient further decreases risk to EMS personnel.

There is much less risk of getting all respiratory diseases during outdoor activities. Good indoor ventilation can help prevent people from getting and spreading COVID and the flu. And in crowded places, there is less chance of being infected if people are able to maintain that 6-foot distance.

Know your department’s policy regarding quarantine and isolation for infectious illnesses, and if you would begin to get ill, get away from others.

Winter weather, and the fact that most Americans have been well away from respiratory diseases for the last 30 months or so, pose a bigger risk of infectious diseases now. Fire and EMS is a job that requires a lot of contact with others. A few added protections, and the risk of infections is reduced quite a bit.

Have a great holiday season and be safe!

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