JANUARY 11, 2022 – It’s the viral “Triple Threat” of respiratory illnesses which public health experts grimly knew could happen.
The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 outbreak, along with the annual winter cold and influenza season(s) are making it difficult for a number of people to weather the winter.
Officials at Puget Sound Military Health System (MHS) commands such as Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB), along with Madigan Army Medical Center and Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor are helping to prevent the pandemic as well as protect patients from the common cold and flu.
NHB subject matter experts strongly advocate that everyone should continue to take practical preventive measure to ward off the three highly-infectious viruses.
“Since we began administering COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 23, 2020, that is the best tool we all have to help protect us against COVID-19, slow the transmission of the virus and also reduce the possibility of new emergent variants,” said Dr. Dan Frederick, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton population health officer and public health emergency officer.
Frederick also advocates for all those vaccinated to get a booster shot.
“Being vaccinated strengthens our immune system against the disease. If someone does get the highly-contagious COVID-19 virus or the flu, any symptoms will be less severe and not result on needing to be admitted for in-patient care,” explained Frederick.
The viruses are spread from person to person, especially between those in close contact – six feet or less – with each other. All are shared by droplets that occur when someone with the illness coughs, sneezes, or talks. The droplets spray out and land on someone else and get inhaled into their lungs. A person can also get physically infected by shaking hands, touching a handrail or door knob that has the virus on it and then touching their own nose, eyes or mouth.
There are also multiple protective measures which everyone can apply daily to mitigate the potential spread of the viruses, such as hand washing; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid close contact with sick people and maintain social distancing of at least six feet; cover cough/sneezes and discard used tissues and wash hands immediately afterwards; clean/disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily and cover your nose and mouth with a face mask when around others.
Even for the common cold, of which there is no known cure, the CDC notes people can reduce the risk of getting a cold by hand washing often, for at least 20 seconds with soap and water and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
With the Omicron variant surging over the last several weeks, it is now the dominant strain of the pandemic in the U.S. It is also causing a rise in COVID cases throughout the Puget Sound MHS and surrounding communities. It’s considered much more transmissible – up to two and three times more likely to spread – than previous variants.
In unvaccinated people the most common symptoms are fever, cough, chills and shortness of breath. Those vaccinated may experience milder symptoms such a congestion, runny nose, sore throat and fatigue. If all those symptoms sound like what someone can experience with getting the flu or common cold, they are.
Similar symptoms between the three include fever and/or chills, shortness of breath or difficult breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, coughing/sneezing, muscle pain/body ache, headache, and even vomiting/diarrhea.
It can take at least one or more days after someone is infected by either virus to begin to experience any of the symptoms just mentioned.
Another similarity is all three virus are hidden. They can be spread by someone not knowing they have either one, due to no symptoms apparent, or having mild symptoms, or even never developing symptoms.
Those who are at high risk – such as older adults, people with underlying medical conditions and those who are pregnant – can become severely sick by either and possibly deal with a host of complications such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, and the worsening of chronic medical conditions.
All DoD personnel are being encouraged to receive the booster dose for further protection of themselves as well as those around them. All those 18 and older who have already received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine series six months previous and those who received their Johnson and Johnson dose at least two months ago are booster eligible.
NHB is also providing flu vaccinations to all eligible beneficiaries at the Immunization Clinic. During the seasonal influenza campaign shot exercise held Oct. 4-10, 2021, approximately 2,370 flu shots were administered.
“As we do every year, we strongly encourage everyone to get the flu vaccine. It’s now more important than ever due to the ongoing pandemic,” said Frederick, echoing CDC concerns. “It is especially important for pregnant women and people with chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes, and those that have weakened immune systems.”
NHB adheres to CDC advice that everyone – even those as young as six months – should get the influenza vaccine each year.
Influenza viruses cause mild to severe illness, whereas COVID-19 has caused serious illness in many, resulting in over 832,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.
The CDC notes that most people get colds in the winter and recover in 7-10 days. However, people with weakened immune systems, asthma, or conditions that affect the lungs and breathing passages may develop serious illness, such as pneumonia. Common colds also continue to be a main reason for children to miss school and adults miss work.
Frederick, attests that immunization is the primary method of reducing seasonal influenza illness, along with helping to eliminate the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 vaccination and influenza vaccination not only helps protect vaccinated individuals, but also helps protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of the disease,” added Frederick.
Story by Douglas Stutz
Naval Hospital Bremerton/Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton