As the first fall and winter without widespread COVID-19 restrictions and rules — like mask-wearing and social distancing — in place, cases of other illnesses like regular flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are seeing an upswing.
Just this week, pediatric health groups called on the federal government to declare a national emergency on RSV. The request came as hospitals were overwhelmed with emergency room visits and cases. It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that the pediatric groups said that they “need emergency funding support and flexibilities along the same lines of what was provided to respond to COVID surges.”
It’s unlikely that the federal government will provide funding for such a large-scale response. So people are taking matters into their own hands and finding ways to curb the spread of the illnesses on their own — and, along the way, using lessons learned during the pandemic.
Enter TikTok, again. It’s hosting any number of videos featuring moms and pediatricians offering tips to reduce the likelihood of contracting a bug. Alas, to find them, you may have to sift through videos spreading misinformation or touting homemade or commercial remedies that aren’t espoused by doctors.
Here are some of TikTok’s top tips on preventing the flu and RSV this holiday season — backed up by our old friend, science.
Wash your hands and clean exposed surfaces
RSV spreads through droplets, such as when a person coughs or sneezes, and it gets inside a person’s nose or mouth. RSV can also live for long periods of time on surfaces.
The advice: Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly (hello, April 2020), disinfect surfaces at home and have kids change clothes when they return from daycare or school.
This is backed up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which notes that RSV can “survive for many hours on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails. It typically lives on soft surfaces such as tissues and hands for shorter amounts of time.”
Get a flu shot
Vaccination, as always, remains one of the best lines of defense. To that end, Toronto’s University Health Network notes on its TikTok page that it sends out mobile vaccination clinics to boost the convenience of getting a flu shot.
While people may be experiencing COVID-19 fatigue – and the number of people receiving this year’s updated bivalent booster is lower than expected – healthcare providers continue to stress that getting vaccinated is one of the most effective ways to stave off the flu.
Mask up or cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing — or just stay home
This one should be easy. As the winter months roll along, individuals might choose to mask up — in public spaces or crowded indoor areas, on public transportation or at work — if they’re worried they may be exposed to the virus. Or sick themselves.
The most effective way to ensure a lack of spread, though, is to simply stay home when feeling ill, regardless of whether you have a positive test that proves it. Social distancing proved effective in curbing COVID-19 and will do the same for other infectious diseases.
Don’t kiss the baby
As families gather for the holidays, it’s important to remember to avoid kissing babies or other family members on the cheek. Experts note that RSV can transmit via mouth or sharing drinks. So even if you choose to not mask or social distance this year, keep the close contact to a minimum.
Carry a prevention pack
One TikTok user suggested bringing a prevention pack, consisting of masks, hand sanitizer and more, wherever you go. It’s a good way to ensure you’re not caught vulnerable in a space where people are coughing or otherwise closely clustered.
Get enough sleep, exercise and vitamin D
While this advice may seem obvious, it’s often overlooked when discussing the prevention of communicable diseases. Healthy lifestyles are the ultimate long-term preventive measure.
One TikTok user encourages people to get eight hours of sleep a day and maintain a daily exercise routine. It’s also helpful to make sure your vitamin D levels are normal, because they tend to drop during the winter months (due to a lack of exposure to sunlight). Vitamin D is associated with the strength of the immune system.
Know the signs of flu and RSV, and get tested
Educating yourself on the symptoms of RSV — and, specifically, how they may differ from the flu, COVID-19 or a regular cold — can diminish potential cases.
If you’re concerned your child may be exhibiting RSV symptoms, HCPs recommend immediate testing. The RSV test is similar to the COVID-19 one and involves a nasal swab. Getting tested for COVID-19 or RSV before family gatherings is a helpful way to lower the risk of hosting a superspreader event.
While most at-home TikTok remedies should be taken with a grain of salt, some creative recipes — like hot tea with ginger, lemon and honey — can assuage flu and cold symptoms. Neither, of course, should be used as a first-option treatment or in place of seeing a doctor. If you’re stable and at home nursing symptoms, however, staying hydrated via creative versions of hot tea can’t hurt.