How to avoid getting sick from flu, RSV and other viral ailments

D.C. has the highest rate of flu activity in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Virginia’s Department of Health is warning that this season of viral ailments may be worse than in recent years.

So a local doctor has some reminders on how you can avoid those nasty bugs.



“It’s so hard, because we have been away from this reality of having colds and flus. It’s been beautiful to not be sick” during the last few seasons with preventive precautions in place, said Dr. Amanda Bauer, Kaiser Permanente’s chief of advanced urgent care in Baltimore.

“And of course, COVID didn’t go anywhere; it’s still here,” she added.

Are you taking care of yourself?

“One of the best things we can do … is to get our flu vaccines and to get the updated COVID booster,” said Dr. Amanda Bauer. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

A good first strategy to avoid getting sick is to eat well, exercise, get good sleep and reduce stress.

“If you have a ton of things on your plate, because of the busy season coming up, maybe thinking about taking one off; because our immune systems work best when we’re well rested, we’re well fueled with healthy nutritious foods, and have exercise and sleep,” she said.

Are you washing your hands frequently?

Whether using alcohol-based hand sanitizer or just soap and water, the trick is to do so vigorously for about as long as it takes to sing the birthday song twice, Bauer said. Don’t skip the tops of your hands or under the fingernails.

“The friction of rubbing your hands together can be helpful,” she said. “We can’t see viruses and germs. So it’s not as easy to know where the nooks and crannies of your hands are holding things, but if you rub your hands together, you’re more likely to get them more clean.”

Do you know where to cough?

To avoid spreading an ailment when you’re sick, seal off coughs and sneezes tightly into a tissue. If one’s not available, expel into your upper arm or the crook of your elbow.

Have you had your shots?

“One of the best things we can do — especially to help with this flu surge that’s coming and prevent against the worst things of COVID — is to get our flu vaccines and to get the updated COVID booster,” Bauer said.

The CDC says it’s safe to get both a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time.

Another respiratory illness that’s circulating atypically high now is the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which can be dangerous for infants.

“Emergency department and urgent care visits with diagnosed RSV have quadrupled and have been rapidly increasing in Virginia’s syndromic surveillance system since early September,” according to a statement from Virginia’s Department of Health.

A doctor from Children’s National Hospital has advice about available options to avoid long waits at crowded facilities, details for when emergency care is necessary, and insight into when it might be best to recover at home.

“Things we worry about more — that we would want to see you in an emergency room or urgent care — would be actually having trouble breathing, or having significant chest pain,” Bauer said,  noting that very young children might not be breathing well enough to eat or drink, resulting in them not having as much urine in their diapers.

When are you better off staying home?

If you or the person you’re caring for is not having severe symptoms, Bauer said, the best thing to do is to stay home.

“You could pick up something else, you could share your virus with others, and other people might be more susceptible than you,” she said. “You might be more dangerous for somebody else.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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