By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – So if you’ve been living in virtual isolation the past 15 months, not only have you probably not gotten COVID-19, but you’ve probably been spared other infections as well.

But now that most of us are coming out of hibernation, some of us are getting what’s being called the “reemergence cold.”

I’ve had a cold for the past week, so has my son, and we’re seeing more patients in the clinic with respiratory symptoms. Some have allergies but many have colds caused by viruses we would routinely see pre-pandemic that are now beginning to circulate again – rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, and so forth. In fact, there are hundreds of viruses that can cause the common cold out there.

There were barely any flu cases this past year. So why are these cold viruses popping up now?

All of the measures we took to protect ourselves against COVID-19 was keeping them at bay. But now that we’re shedding our masks, easing up on hand washing, socializing, and touching one another, we’re bound to start passing other germs around again.

Cold viruses are transmitted in many of the same ways the coronavirus is. Breathing contaminated air droplets that enter the air when someone coughs or breathes nearby. Touching a contaminated object like a doorknob or an elevator button then touching our faces.

When should you worry that it’s COVID and not just a regular cold?

If you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have any known COVID exposure, and if COVID rates are low in your area, it is more likely to be a regular cold. But you may want to get tested to be on the safe side. For example, I got a COVID test because I was going to visit my new baby niece and certainly didn’t want to expose her to COVID.

But if you’re not vaccinated and you develop cold symptoms, you should be tested.

And how can you protect yourself from getting a cold?

Same ways you’ve been protecting yourself from COVID. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Wear a mask if you’re sick. Stay home from school or work if you’re not feeling well. And I would say, drop the routine handshake. We learned how to greet one another graciously with fist bumps, elbow taps, or a little bow. No need to bring the handshake.

Dr. Mallika Marshall