Flu, Corona, RSV: Christmas without a virus? How to protect yourself

Silent Night, Holy Night - one sniffles, one has a fever.

Flu, Corona, RSV: Christmas without a virus? How to protect yourself

Silent Night, Holy Night - one sniffles, one has a fever. Currently, many are affected by respiratory infections. And Christmas is coming. How do you celebrate more safely, especially with people at risk in the family?

Well, are there a handful of people in your environment who have a bad cold or are lying flat? Probably yes, because now in December an exceptionally large number of people are affected by respiratory diseases.

There are various pathogens behind this, as the weekly reports from the Robert Koch Institute show. "The series of respiratory viruses is led by influenza, then come rhinoviruses and RSV - especially in smaller children. And then comes Corona," says Prof. Mathias Pletz, pneumologist and infectiologist from the Jena University Hospital.

Especially when whole families get together for Christmas, there is a good chance that you will take an infection home with you. A problem especially for those who have a weakened immune system due to previous illnesses and therefore have to fear serious illnesses.

“For many, the corona virus no longer seems dangerous. But you have to look at the individual situation,” says Prof. Julian Schulze zur Wiesch, senior physician in the infectiology section at the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital. So when the 90-year-old grandma celebrates or the brother who is in the middle of chemotherapy, families ask themselves: How can we make Christmas a little safer?

There is a lot you can do in the days leading up to the festival. "A mini-quarantine of a few days can then make sense, reducing contacts," says Julian Schulze zur Wiesch. In concrete terms, this can mean: Shortly before Christmas, you do without the evening in the full pub. Or move to the home office for the last working days, if that is possible.

And: "If you want to celebrate with vulnerable family members, it makes sense, for example, to continue to wear a mask while traveling by train. Wearing a mouth and nose protector is a simple and effective measure," says Schulze zur Wiesch. "And to do it consistently, even if others look wrong." In some federal states, there is no longer a requirement to wear masks on regional trains.

He advises discussing the topic of protection against infection in the family in advance - and above all including those who need special protection. Is it okay with you if the neighbors come over with the children and the group gets a little bigger? Or if we sing as a family in the small living room, which creates more aerosols? Do we want to agree that we all do a rapid corona test beforehand? Julian Schulze zur Wiesch advises against resting on the suspicion that "nothing will happen". "Many get infected through close contact with family or friends."

Everyone should follow one rule when it comes to Mathias Pletz: "If I feel sick, I stay at home - even if it's difficult at Christmas." After all, thanks to the pandemic, we now have practice in celebrating in a video conference if we have to.

And how can you create more security when the family is sitting together around the Christmas tree or the banquet table? "Many don't feel ill at all, although they still excrete viruses. That's why regular ventilation is important," says Mathias Pletz.

Because aerosols, i.e. fine droplets floating in the air, can transmit flu viruses, for example. In order to send infectious aerosols outside, it is enough to ventilate for a few minutes in winter, according to the portal gegencorona.de of the Federal Ministry of Health. To do this, you shouldn't just tilt the window, but ventilate it intermittently or crossways. And if someone around you coughs or sneezes, it's best to open the window immediately.

Keywords: cough and sneeze. The habit of doing both in the crook of your arm still makes sense, of course. Likewise, washing your hands, which significantly reduces the germ load on your hands. If you enter the house as a guest, it is best to turn into the bathroom first.

The Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) reminds that soaping and washing up should take at least 20 seconds. About as long as twice "Happy Birthday to you" buzz lasts, which can certainly also be replaced by "Your children are coming" on the holidays.

The most effective protection against infections with severe courses are and remain vaccinations. So far there are no anti-RS and rhinoviruses, but there are anti-influenza and corona. However, it takes around two weeks for the respective vaccination protection to develop optimally. Even if this is no longer possible by Christmas: It is worth closing vaccination gaps quickly, because the flu epidemic, for example, is only just picking up speed.

According to Mathias Pletz, a flu vaccination can also be useful for children. "On the one hand, influenza is by no means harmless, especially for young children, as the current situation clearly shows. On the other hand, children shed the virus for much longer." If the children are vaccinated against flu, this also protects the grandparents or other vulnerable people in the family.

And vaccinations can be worthwhile in several ways. "There are non-specific vaccination effects that come up again and again in studies. For example, shortly after an influenza vaccination, the probability of severe corona courses decreases," says Pletz.

The assumption of science: The immune system is trained in such a way that this also results in better protection against other pathogens - even if it is not perfect or long-lasting. An effect that is particularly welcome this winter.