How do you protect yourself from winter illnesses?

Science and Health

Recent times have seen a surge in illnesses, with individuals suffering from various winter ailments. From common colds to strep throat and the flu with high fevers, it seems that everyone is affected (and infected).

Professor Alon Hershko, a board member of the Israeli Association for Allergy and Clinical Immunology and Director of the Internal Medicine Department at Hadassah Hospital, shed light on the situation in a conversation with Maariv.

Hershko highlighted that winters are challenging for internal medicine departments, often operating at over 100% capacity.

How has the nature of winter illnesses changed in recent years?

He said that while the burden is not surprising, the nature of illness in winter has changed over the last few years. Alongside worsening chronic diseases, the flu has become an additional concern. It has unfortunately become routine for healthcare professionals.

Only the most severe cases are treated in internal wards, accounting for about 1-2% of total morbidity. Hershko explained that out of 100 patients, approximately 70% can self-manage, 28% seek medical attention, and 2% require hospitalization.

Face masks fly off, but is the COVID-19 pandemic really over? (Illustrative) (credit: Aboodi Vesakaran/Unsplash)

Despite having 38 beds, his ward currently houses 42 patients, necessitating the accommodation of overflow patients in other departments. Finding a solution to this issue is crucial to avoid placing patients in corridors.

Remarkably, this is the first winter where masks are not mandatory.


Flu vaccine rates are down

Hershko noted the decrease in flu vaccination rates among Israelis, warning about the problematic perception that avoiding vaccination guarantees good health.

He emphasized that only when the population is vaccinated does overall health improve. He acknowledged concerns about vaccine side effects but said that these side effects are rare compared to the severity of the illnesses they prevent.

The complications of the flu, such as bacterial pneumonia, heart muscle inflammation, and heart attacks, can be reduced through vaccination.

Hershko stressed the importance of vaccines in preventing and controlling epidemics, citing historical examples. He stated that vaccines act as a protective dam against outbreaks, especially considering conditions like overcrowding and frequent travel that contribute to their occurrence.

Regarding the use of masks for those already sick, Hershko confirmed their effectiveness, based on his experience treating COVID-19 patients before the availability of vaccines. Despite close contact, proper mask usage helped prevent infection.

Each winter presents different challenges. Hershko expressed concern about chronic patients neglecting their treatment due to the pandemic, emphasizing the importance of balance and managing illnesses to bolster the body’s ability to fight winter illnesses.