Looking for an easy way to reduce your risk of catching the flu or other viral illnesses? Try not to touch your face.
It’s a step doctors are urging people to take as California faces a ‘triple epidemic’ threat – with influenza, coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, circulating at high levels throughout the state at the same time.
“The only point I want to emphasize again is … to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth,” Dr. Ralph Gonzales, associate dean of UC San Francisco, said at a recent town hall. from campus. “Really good studies have shown that if we can work harder to be vigilant about this, it will increase our chances of staying flu-free.”
The risk is that some viruses can survive for days on hard surfaces. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can become infected with influenza and RSV by touching a contaminated surface and then their face.
The coronavirus, on the other hand, is usually spread through the air. Touching contaminated surfaces is not a major factor in infection. Influenza and RSV can also be spread by droplets sent through the air when infected people cough, sneeze or talk, which then land in other people’s mouths or noses.
However, this simple tip may be easier said than done. Touching your face can be a spontaneous or even unconscious act that some research shows can help us deal with anxiety and discomfort, or be linked to negative or unfulfilling feelings.
And this is something that happens often. A 2015 study showed that medical students in class touched their faces 23 times per hour on average.
But with flu season ramping up and some children’s hospitals already full of RSV patients, officials are urging residents to do their part to curb transmission of the viral duo.
Here are some tips to practice avoiding touching your face. It’s not impossible; politicians, for example, “learn through extensive training to refrain from touching their faces during public speaking,” said Martin Grunwald, author of a book on face touching, “Homo hapticus “, in an email to The Times in 2020. Yet, “this behavior requires extreme self-control and is extremely taxing.
- Start paying attention when you touch your face, catching yourself when — and, preferably, before — you do.
- If you catch yourself before touching your face, consider crossing your hands or doing something else with them.
- Do you have an itch? Try to ignore it. If it’s bothersome, wash your hands, then scrape it off, then wash your hands again. Or buy sterile wooden tongue depressors to use as an itch scraper.
Regular hand washing is also an important step to help thwart viral spread, officials say. When soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizer can work in a snap.
Besides these behavioral considerations, officials recommend getting a flu shot if you haven’t already, as the vaccine will provide protection against infections and serious illnesses. And early indications are that this year’s flu vaccine “is well matched to circulating strains,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser.
Nationally, the flu hospitalization rate is the highest for this time of year since the 2010-11 season, according to the CDC. And “this is just the beginning,” UC San Francisco infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong told colleagues at the campus town hall. “We’re just a little worried looking at these numbers.”
The CDC considered California to have a “high” level of influenza activity for the week ending Nov. 12, based on the most recent data available. The other four most populous states in the country also had “high” levels of flu activity: Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois.
In California, the first hot spot remains the southeastern corner of the state — San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties — but overall flu activity is increasing across the state, the data shows. Pressures from respiratory disease have prompted some San Diego County hospitals to use overflow tents outside of their emergency departments.
In Los Angeles County, the flu positivity rate has risen sharply. At least one flu-associated death has been confirmed in the region since early October.
“Here in LA County, it is abundantly clear that we are seeing high activity levels for this time of year, and we continue to see a large increase in the proportion of samples testing positive for the flu,” said county health officer Dr. Muntu. Davis said.
At this point, there is no vaccine available for RSV, which makes personal precautions all the more important. Along with washing your hands, experts recommend covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze and staying home when you’re sick to avoid transmitting the virus. Some people may also consider wearing a properly fitted mask in crowded environments or indoors.
Given the current level of coronavirus spread, LA County officials are now strongly recommending wearing a mask in indoor public spaces.
“Masks will provide protection against RSV and influenza the same way they provide protection against transmission of COVID,” Davis said.