‘The ICUs are full:’ Keep yourself and others healthy this holiday

Dec 22, 2023, 6:59 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s time for holiday gatherings, but with more people around us comes a greater risk of getting sick.

Along with the rise in traditional winter illnesses, Laine McCullough, epidemiology supervisor with the Salt Lake County Health Department, says we’re also seeing an increase in norovirus infections.

“Norovirus is a virus that causes really bad stomach GI issues,” McCullough said. “It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and usually lasts for a day or two. But during that couple of days, it’s really, really miserable for anyone that gets it.”

Also known as the stomach flu — though it’s not related to influenza — norovirus is highly contagious and can live on surfaces for weeks at a time.

“Check your cleaning products at home. If it’s not a bleach-based solution, it probably won’t kill for norovirus,” McCullough said. “Products like hand sanitizer won’t work against it either. You need to wash your hands with soap and water.”

Even if you think you have an immune system of steel, doctors say it’s best to take precautions.

“Human nature is, ‘I haven’t gotten sick before. It’s not going to happen to me,’ and it’s true, you may not get sick, but this is easy insurance against something bad that can happen,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, a pediatric infectious disease expert with University of Utah Health and Primary Children’s Hospital.

He said we’re getting hit by another triple-demic: rising cases of COVID-19, the flu, and RSV.

Recent wastewater testing showed “very high” levels of COVID-19 in Utah, and the CDC reported a new variant — JN.1 — on the rise.

“The ICUs are full. It may get worse over the next 2 to 3 weeks before it starts to get better,” Dr. Pavia said.

Dr. Pavia emphasized that the best form of protection is vaccination.

“People need to think about what the risk of getting a vaccine is — which almost none — versus the potential benefit if you happen to be the one who gets severe influenza or if your child gets RSV,” he said.

In addition to vaccination, doctors say a good rule of thumb is to stay home if you’re feeling sick and don’t forget to wash your hands.

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‘The ICUs are full:’ Keep yourself and others healthy this holiday