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Seasonal Allergies, Respiratory Illnesses, and the Importance of Vaccination and Hygiene

With the close of the winter season comes a decrease in respiratory diseases, making way for seasonal allergies to make their entrance. According to infectious disease expert, Dr. Vinod Mohan from Heywood Hospital, these seasonal allergies often make their debut in mid-March, when pollen from budding trees, a sure sign of spring, acts as a trigger for allergies and asthma.

Dr. Mohan asserts that no connection has been established between individuals suffering from mild to moderate seasonal allergies and a propensity to contract infections or respiratory illness during springtime. While allergies can lead to congestion and obstruction of drainage, he clarifies that these should not lead to respiratory infections.

Moving back in time to late Winter, the Viral Respiratory Illness Reporting database from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported high flu numbers in the North Central Massachusetts region from February 25 to March 2. According to Jeannie Sanborn, director of infection prevention at Heywood Memorial Hospital, the statewide benchmark for flu cases is placed at 1.9%. However, just last week, the whole of Commonwealth reported a spike in flu cases, clocking in at 4.05%.

The rise in flu and other similar respiratory illnesses during the colder months was unsurprising to medical experts, explained Dr. Mohan. The winter, characterized by its cold and low-humidity environment, provides an ideal nesting ground for these illnesses. Increased indoor activity during colder seasons facilitates the spread of such diseases. Strikingly, this rise in cases is often witnessed during the holiday season when large gatherings in confined spaces make transmission easier. Following the holiday season, there was a noticeable increase in COVID-19 cases, which was later supplanted by a rise in flu incidences.

Despite the surge in flu cases, confirmed instances and hospitalizations due to COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and other respiratory diseases remained relatively low. Infection preventionist Sanborn stated that the hospital’s response to the increase in respiratory illness patients mirrored their approach in previous years. Further, the flu was distinguished as the most rampant among the three respiratory illnesses during the triple-threat season.

Despite the concluding winter season, Dr. Mohan strongly encourages individuals to get vaccinated for flu, COVID-19, and RSV. Not doing so, he warns, could potentially extend the flu season. Unlike the flu, which sees a spike during colder times, COVID-19 does not follow a seasonal pattern. Stressing the importance of community protection through vaccination, he highlights the vulnerability of the elderly and people with autoimmune disorders. Additionally, hand hygiene forms a crucial line of defense against respiratory diseases. In crowded environments, mask-wearing can further inhibit disease transmission. The hospital continues to administer flu vaccines till the end of March to be on the safer side, even as the triple-threat season starts winding down. Sanborn provides a crucial piece of advice to follow whenever one feels unwell – ‘Stay home, skip school or work. If compulsory, go out wearing a mask and perform an at-home COVID-19 test.’


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