Healthier Together: Doctors highlight importance of hygiene as flu season lingers

While the latest numbers from the Washington State Department of Health are promising, it doesn’t mean the risk of respiratory illnesses is gone, according to Dr. Nicole Saint Clair, the Executive Medical Director of Regence BlueShield.

“We typically think of the (flu) season running anywhere from November to March, but that shifts in different regions,” Dr. Saint Clair said. “Probably all of us, anecdotally, know someone recently who’s had to miss several days of work with a significant cold, maybe COVID, maybe influenza. It does seem like there’s been some improvement with RSV, but for the majority of adults, we are still significantly at risk.”

COVID “will be with us every year and every year will spike,” according to Dr. Saint Clair. That’s why, she said, it’s important to be mindful and not think of COVID as something that’s gone away with the pandemic.

“For people who are particularly high risk, that risk is still there. It’s really important for those of us at average risk to be mindful of our higher-risk friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Take extra precautions for them as well,” she said. “Vaccination rates are actually down right now, across the board. Not just COVID, not just flu, but we see this with childhood immunizations. (That’s) The element of what we call vaccine fatigue. There’s been so much discussion about vaccinations and efforts towards it that sometimes people do feel a little burnt out and aren’t keeping up with it. But it’s critically important to remember why these vaccines exist to begin with. They’re saving us from diseases that used to kill us.”

Earlier this year, multiple public health departments in Washington warned the public of a measles outbreak.

In 2022, health officials in New York were concerned that hundreds may have been infected with polio.

In 2021, a study found mumps cases were rising in vaccinated children.

“We’ve had these outbreaks and we’re seeing them in pockets because we are getting a little-bit slack on maintaining our community immunity,” Dr. Saint Clair said. “As we see a reduction in vaccination rates, we’re seeing an uptick, not only in the U.S. but around the world, of diseases that are preventable and that were even potentially thought of as eradicated.”

Dr. Saint Clair suggests the three tools many of us already relied on during the pandemic: good hygiene (including hand washing), wearing masks in crowded spaces, and vaccines.

“If you’re sick, stay home. Avoid others if you’re not feeling well,” she said.