How to Celebrate Holidays Safely During the COVID-19 Pandemic

At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are getting “pandemic fatigue” and beginning to attend indoor social gatherings, often unmasked. According to the CDC, smaller social gatherings among family and friends are one of the main drivers of current COVID-19 spread. This is particularly difficult to combat as the country heads into a season of traditional family gathering times: Thanksgiving and the holidays. Unfortunately, any time small or large groups of people gather outside their households, the risk of COVID-19 spread increases. Here’s how you can celebrate the holidays safely.

Have a Traditional Dinner with Your Household Only

The best way to stay safe from COVID-19 during the holidays is to spend the day with members of your household only and avoid the traditional gathering of extended family and friends. You can still prepare traditional recipes and engage in family traditions, but without contact with other people who are not in your household. 

Have a Virtual Gathering with Family or Friends

This year is a good opportunity to gather your family and friends virtually to enjoy a shared meal or just catch up. You can swap recipes in advance or prepare meals to drop off with local relatives (with no contact). These types of virtual and contactless activities can be particularly helpful if you live alone and are craving the social togetherness of the holidays. 

If you traditionally shop on Black Friday with friends or family, this is a good year to gather via videoconference and shop online for your holidays gifts or deals.

Unfortunately, there is not a good way to safely gather for Thanksgiving or for the holidays. The best way to protect your loved ones is to remain apart until it is safe to gather together once again. Find ways to connect virtually to keep your family and friends safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: CDC

Why You Need a Flu Shot This Year

Each year, approximately half of American adults choose to skip the annual flu vaccine and take their chances with the seasonal flu. While most healthy adults recover from the flu after an unpleasant week of cough, fever and other flu symptoms, approximately 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for flu complications each year and a fraction of those patients die of more severe complications. While the CDC always recommends a flu vaccine for all Americans over the age of six months, the flu shot is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many scientists fear that as temperatures drop and people return to indoor gatherings, the incidence of COVID-19 transmission will increase and cause a winter wave of COVID-19, potentially worse than some of the other waves we have seen. As we near Thanksgiving, we are already seeing a huge increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths from multi-system organ failure.  A winter wave of COVID-19 would coincide with flu season, increasing the burden on hospitals as both flu patients and COVID-19 patients seek medical attention for severe cases. If more Americans are vaccinated against the flu, which can help to prevent and reduce the severity of the seasonal flu, more hospital beds and medical providers will be available to care for COVID-19 patients. The public health goal is clear: prevent the flu to create space to treat COVID-19.

Another issue with a simultaneous flu and COVID-19 wave is the number of symptoms that the two diseases share. Flu symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue. The only symptom that COVID-19 does not share with the flu is a loss of taste and smell. This overlap makes it nearly impossible for doctors to diagnose the flu or COVID-19 without conducting a specific viral test. This could put increased strain on testing resources and cause greater testing lab backlogs or a shortage of tests.

Getting a flu shot this fall is a low-risk choice that may help to save your life or the lives of those around you. Aside from masks and social distancing, the flu shot is one of the best tools at our collective disposal this fall to prevent a looming public health disaster this winter.

Why are Cases of Liver Disease in Young Adults Rising?

In the last three decades, the rate of alcohol consumption has shown a net decrease, but cases of liver disease in young people are on the rise. This misalignment of numbers has begged the question among doctors and physician-scientists: what is causing an increase in liver disease among young adults in the United States? Experts think it may be caused by an increase in extreme binge drinking among young people.

Moderate drinking is defined as approximately one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Moderate drinking is the limit of alcohol consumption that medical practitioners generally feel is safe for most people to avoid liver damage or other negative effects of alcohol. Binge drinking, on the other hand, is more than four drinks for women or five drinks for men at a single time (over a few hours). This amount of alcohol outpaces the body’s ability to metabolize the alcohol and leads to impairment mental and physical functions, also known as being “drunk.”

Even worse than binge drinking is extreme binge drinking, where people consume so much alcohol that they are barely able to walk or talk, and are in danger of fatal alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking is most common among adults between the ages of 18 and 34, and extreme binge drinking puts significant strain on the liver’s ability to process and metabolize alcohol.

Over time, this type of stress on the liver can cause inflammation and liver disease. Liver disease typically develops over years of excessive alcohol use, but doctors are seeing increases in alcohol-related liver disease fatalities among people aged 25 to 35, according to a study published in BMJ. This is a clear indicator that young adults are abusing alcohol and engaging in binge drinking or extreme binge drinking.

While the decrease in overall alcohol consumption is a positive indicator of progress, increased alcohol-related problems among young people is a step in the wrong direction. Public health campaigns aimed at exposing the danger of binge drinking may be the next step in the fight against alcohol-related disorders and disease.

Sources: BMJ, NIAAA, CDC, CDC, Yale Medicine