By now, we all are very well-versed with the safety measures for the prevention of COVID-19. They have pretty much become a part of our daily routine or as many people say – “the new normal”. But did you know that these safety protocols are effective in protecting you against the regular flu and cold as well?
Fall marks the beginning of the cold and flu season. Unfortunately, this time, it’s crossing paths with the COVID-19 pandemic which makes it even worse. But there’s a silver lining! According to the medical experts, the safety measures that are recommended by the World Health Organization to reduce the risk of the Coronavirus can actually help us to combat other illnesses such as the common cold and influenza. That’s why they are encouraging people all around the world to continue practicing good hygiene, social distancing, and mask-wearing.
Even though there are minor differences between the Coronavirus and the normal flu-causing viruses, the method in which they are transmitted is extremely similar. Let’s find out how.
Types of Transmissions
Respiratory Illnesses are transmitted through two ways – droplet transmission and airborne transmission.
Droplet Transmission – This type of transmission occurs when two people are in close contact with each other (within 1 m or less). The person suffering from a respiratory disease releases droplets containing microorganisms while coughing, sneezing, or talking. When a healthy person is exposed to these droplets and they somehow come in contact with his eyes, nose, or mouth, he gets infected with the disease. These droplets are not small enough to be suspended in the air for a long time. Once the force of gravity takes over, they quickly settle on the nearby surfaces.
Droplet transmission can be greatly reduced by using protective gear such as goggles and face masks to cover the nose, mouth, and eyes. Since touching the contaminated surfaces can also spread the virus, frequent hand-washing will also help.
Airborne Transmission – In airborne transmission, the disease-causing microorganisms are carried by droplet nuclei that stay suspended in the air for an extended period due to their extremely tiny size (<5μm in diameter). They can be transmitted to others over distances greater than 1 m, usually carried by the air currents. Moreover, droplet nuclei are resistant to drying which allows them to survive longer.
So it is quite clear that when it comes to the transmission of respiratory diseases, the size of the respiratory droplets matters a lot. Viruses that spread cold, flu, or COVID-19, all fall in the same category and are transmitted in the same way, which is through droplet transmission.
How do masks help?
Masks are the most effective tool against respiratory diseases as the infection is caused when the droplets enter the respiratory route of the person.
The virus is spread most efficiently when people are within the vicinity of 3 to 6 feet which is also referred to as the breathing zone. Often, the symptoms are experienced way after a person is infected with the virus, but this doesn’t mean that he/she cannot transmit it to another person. This is why masks are essential.
Masks act as a protective shield that prevents the droplets from entering the respiratory channel through the mouth or nose, reducing the risk of infection. However, this is not their main function! Masks are more efficient when they are worn by the person who is infected rather than the healthy one. They work excellently at stopping the outgoing of the contaminated droplets. So if you are wearing a mask, you are not only safeguarding your own health but also preventing others from getting infected. While masks are not a sure-shot method of protection, they still significantly reduce the risk.
Note: Masks are only effective if they are worn properly. Whenever you are wearing or removing a mask, always ensure that the mask is clean and your hands are properly washed with soap and water. Further, the mask should properly cover your mouth and nose without leaving any gaps. It should fit snugly around the cheeks and under the chin.
How does social distancing help?
Doctors have been recommending social distancing to people suffering from cold or flu for ages. It includes keeping distance or space from other people to curb the transmission of the illness.
To prevent the spread of Coronavirus, doctors and health experts are continuously stressing the importance of social distancing which will also help in the case of other respiratory diseases. Since cold, flu and Coronavirus can easily spread through everyday contact such as shaking hands or sharing items, it is ideal if physical distancing is followed strictly by everyone.
Why is frequent hand-washing and sanitization important?
Another safety protocol in the current pandemic is maintaining proper hygiene and washing hands at regular intervals. As discussed before, infections that are caused due to droplet transmission can spread by touching the contaminated surfaces. When we sanitize our surroundings and clean our hands with an alcohol-based liquid or wash them frequently, the chances of transmission go down considerably. Moreover, you should also avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes with unwashed hands as one cannot be sure when they touched a contaminated surface.
Along with getting the flu shot, make sure that you follow the above-mentioned COVID-19 safety measures. When used together, these protocols will strengthen your safety barrier and protect you from the upcoming flu season and of course, the Coronavirus efficiently. This is not only great for your overall well-being but also reduces the burden on the healthcare professionals who are already tending to thousands of patients in this pandemic.
Stay safe, stay healthy!