Expert Health Articles

Preventing the Spread of Illness During the Holiday and Winter Season

Winter season can be a season of joy with the gathering of families and friends for the holidays, but it can also become the season of spreading respiratory infections. While most of the time, respiratory infections are mild nuisances for healthy people, influenza, RSV and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) can lead to consequences that are more serious for those with chronic illnesses. COVID-19 has been linked to about 200-400 deaths a day in the past several months. Blanchard Valley Hospital has seen hospitalizations go from single digits to the teens in the past few weeks. Hospitalization for influenza has also increased. Influenza in a typical year is associated with 25,000 to 50,000 deaths.

Taking precautions to prevent exposure is the first line of protection. These measures include staying away when sick, handwashing, covering a cough, masking, testing on the day of the visit, and maintaining ventilation.

Common colds are mainly spread by virus particles on an infected person’s hands transferring to a susceptible person’s hands. From the hands, the virus can get to the respiratory tract by contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. Less commonly, coughing and sneezing may directly spread the virus within about a six-foot distance. Influenza is more likely to be spread by droplets expelled by coughing or sneezing. A susceptible person within six feet may inhale these droplets. Transmission may also occur indirectly by coming into contact with infected particles on surfaces. Influenza may also be airborne with smaller particles that can stay afloat in the air and spread further distances. COVID-19 can transmit by any of the methods described above.

Despite taking common-sense precautions, exposure may still occur. A person can transmit an infection before having any symptoms. So, what can a person who has had exposure to an infected person do to prevent further transmission? At the end of this article, a link is provided to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage that serves as a guide.*

For COVID-19, exposure is considered significant when there is more than 15 minutes of contact without proper personal protection, such as a mask or N95 respirator. A person who is exposed does not need to stay at home. However, a person who had significant exposure is recommended to wear a mask for 10 days and do a test on the sixth day after exposure. For example, a person exposed on Christmas day, should do a test on December 31 and stay masked until January 4. Although this guide is meant for COVID-19, taking similar precautions will be helpful for other respiratory infections, too. A person exposed to influenza or common cold viruses will likely develop symptoms within two to three days. So, masking for a shorter period such as five days after exposure to these illnesses may be sufficient.

As we gather together during the holiday season, it will be important to protect loved ones through efforts that lessen the spread of disease. We ask all our community members to stay home if ill, wear a mask if there is recent exposure, and rigor around handwashing and washing surfaces in their homes.

*For more information on what to do if you are exposed to COVID-19, please visit

Nathaniel Ratnasamy, MD
Infectious Disease & Travel Medicine