Mask or no mask?
The return of cold and flu season can be a worrying time for people with MS. The concern is whether MS drugs that suppress the immune response leave people more susceptible to respiratory infections. Advice from public officials is mixed: people are now being advised to wear a mask while indoors, although governments are reluctant to impose mask mandates.
The holiday season is offering up a triple whammy: COVID-19, influenza and RSV (for respiratory syncytial virus). The COVID-19 pandemic is officially over, although Canada continues to record about 2,500 cases per day – likely a severe underestimate. A more reliable figure is mortality: to date, there have been 47,118 COVID-related deaths in Canada. Over the past month, there have been 44 deaths per day. In the U.S., the number of COVID-related deaths is about 318 per day (and 1.1 million overall). So COVID-19 remains a concern, especially for the more vulnerable, such as older individuals and those living with disabilities.
As for influenza, Health Canada has officially announced an epidemic. For the week ending November 5, there were 2,234 flu cases detected. By November 19, that number had doubled to 5,891 cases, The most severely affected provinces are Ontario and British Columbia. Two-thirds of the cases have been in children and adolescents. Children under 5 years of age and adults aged 65 or over have the highest risk of needing hospitalization.
RSV is also on the rise with 1,944 cases detected over the past week. Like influenza, RSV primarily affects children and adolescents – although it is quick to spread from schools to adults, especially during family gatherings.
All of these infections can be prevented with the same measures used during the pandemic: masks, hand washing and physical distancing. As people with MS are more susceptible to infections, putting a mask back on (however annoying) is important through the mall-shopping and holiday season. People with MS are also advised to get a seasonal flu vaccine to provide an extra measure of defence.
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