Closing system

Want to stay healthy on vacation?

Harvard experts advise on vaccinations, ventilation and additional care for those who need it most.

As we gather for the holidays this year, it’s wise to note that the spotlight-stealing COVID-19 isn’t the only virus circulating: influenza, RSV and other culprits are well capable cause serious illness, or worse, in young and old. look alike. We asked Harvard experts to share their advice on ways to keep everyone healthy, and edited their answers slightly for clarity.

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Vaccination

Kristin Moffitt, MD
Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist, Boston Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

Start with the children: It is so important that infants and children are up to date with their routine immunizations. Vaccine-preventable infections such as measles and poliomyelitis have been able to reappear in recent years because vaccination rates have fallen below the threshold needed to prevent these infections from circulating. Anyone over the age of 6 months is eligible for flu and COVID vaccines, which partially reduce the risk of becoming infected and significantly reduce the likelihood of becoming seriously ill from these infections.

In the United States, children’s hospitals, including emergency departments and inpatient units, are currently under significant pressure given the high volume of respiratory infections circulating in our communities. Reducing serious diseases through vaccination would help preserve these resources for diseases that cannot be prevented by vaccines.

Involve adults: Respiratory viruses – influenza, COVID and RSV – can spread very effectively within households. The more household members who are up to date on available flu and COVID vaccines, the lower the chance of introducing these viruses into a household.

The same goes for gatherings of family and friends. People with weakened immune systems, medical conditions like diabetes or obesity that put them at increased risk of serious infection, or infants too young to be vaccinated are particularly susceptible to these infections. Vaccinating people they come into close contact with helps protect them and the person being vaccinated.

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Ventilation

Joseph Allen, DSc, MPH, DIH
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health
Director, Harvard Healthy Buildings Program

Improve ventilation for indoor gatherings: It all starts with recognizing COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses like the flu that spread indoors in poorly ventilated places. If we start there, it is easier to see the simple steps that we can follow. Think ventilation, dilution and filtration. For example, we can help dilute the virus through ventilation by simply opening a window, and we can help filter respiratory virus particles by using a portable air purifier with a HEPA filter.

Most people will not get sick on a plane: Really. When aircraft systems are running, they provide excellent ventilation and filtration. Think about it: in an operating theater [where experts work to reduce the likelihood of infection], there are approximately 12 air changes per hour; on a plane [with ventilation systems running]there are 20 air changes per hour.

During boarding and after landing, this system does not always work. So if you’re worried about getting sick while traveling by plane, wear a high-quality mask when boarding and disembarking. All masks help, but not all masks are created equal: If you’re worried about getting sick or are immunocompromised, wear a high-quality mask like an N95, KN95, or KF94 that fits snugly over the edge of your your nose and fits snugly. along the cheeks and chin. Personally, I feel very comfortable removing my mask during the flight.

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Extra attention for those who need it

Suzanne E. Salamon, MD
Associate Chief, Geriatric Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

COVID is not over yet: There are a lot of opinions out there, but I think it’s a mistake to think we’re done. There are still 300 COVID deaths every day in this country. As a geriatrician who treats older patients, I have received more calls in recent months from people who test positive for COVID than I can ever recall receiving.

So many people tell me they’re sick of it all, they just want to get back to living. I understand. But when I hear about getting together with 20 people from across the country, family and friends with different vaccination statuses and different mask rules, I think there’s a good chance someone will one catches COVID.

Take precautions, especially around vulnerable people: I have in my family my 100-year-old mother, who lives with us, and a 4-month-old granddaughter who I see often. So I’m extremely cautious and take a more conservative approach than many. Get vaccinated and understand that it takes a few weeks for vaccines to reach their full potential. Take a COVID test before arriving at a gathering. Even repeated tests aren’t 100% reliable, of course, so if you have cough or cold symptoms, it’s safest to ignore them. If you decide to go anyway, wear a high quality mask to help protect others. Sit away from more vulnerable people and only remove your mask when eating.

Quick hugs are okay, it seems, as long as you don’t have any symptoms. Although we can enjoy being together, small gatherings are best.