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Gathering for the Holidays? Plan around the most vulnerable friends, family

Gathering for the Holidays? Plan around the most vulnerable friends, family
Gathering for the Holidays? Plan around the most vulnerable friends, family 04:37

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As Americans enter the third pandemic holiday season, there are two more respiratory viruses surging: respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza. 

CBS 2 brought in an expert to ask how people can gather safely and enjoy holiday festivities. 

Dr. Katrine Wallace is an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago. She also has a big following on her social media platforms, where she posts videos informing her audience about the pandemic, debunking misinformation, and advising on the best ways to try and prevent getting sick. 

Her number one piece of advice is to plan gatherings around the most vulnerable family members. Vulnerable communities include people who are immunocompromised, children, and elderly people.

Dr. Wallace said that COVID-19 mitigations work for all three viruses. Some examples:

  • Take a rapid COVID test before going to a gathering

  • Staying home if you feel any symptoms, even if it feels like allergies 

  • Get up to date on your COVID and flu vaccines 

  • Wear a mask especially if there is a vulnerable family member

  • Wash hands frequently (this works best against RSV)

"It's the Swiss cheese model," she said. "Every one layer of Swiss cheese has holes in it, and the virus can penetrate through. But if you line up all the layers, then you are better protected." 

According to the CDC, this year's flu surge has a steep trajectory and is unseasonably early compared to the last five to 10 years. In less than a month, Illinois shifted from the low to the high category for outpatient flu cases. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"In Chicago, children's respiratory illness hospitalizations are also increased over last year at this same time and that is driven mostly by RSV. it seems as though we have maybe seen the peak of that and starting to decrease," Dr. Wallace said. "The problem is that now influenza is coming right behind so that is increasing in this age group."

She also told CBS 2 that RSV is something that almost 100% of kids are exposed to by the time they are 2 years old, however; babies that were born before or during the pandemic have not had this exposure yet. So a lot of babies are getting exposed now to these viruses at the same time. 

Chicago Department of Public Health

Dr. Wallace said now is a good time to get vaccinated for both COVID-19 and the flu, ahead of the winter surge and before the winter holidays. You can find vaccination clinics located in Chicago here or anywhere across the U.S. here. In-home vaccination is also available for all Chicago households.

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