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Spread Joy, Not Germs

Keep them healthy for the holidays

  • Wash hands before and after every meal and after using the restroom
  • Put out hand sanitizer – it works just as well as soap
  • Cover that cough with your elbow, not your hands
  • Consider staying home if you might be contagious
  • Watch and wash little hands that tend to touch everything

Send them home with gifts, not germs, this holiday season

We call the holidays the season of giving, and unfortunately, sometimes that doesn’t just mean gifts of gratitude.
Along with toys, technology and leftovers, we occasionally send our loved ones home with something no one wants – viruses that cause flu, norovirus or a common cold.

Dr. David Sidebottom, an infectious disease specialist at Lowell General Hospital, says the travel and get-togethers around this time of year create the perfect Petri dish for the spread of disease.

“A lot of it is related to increased interpersonal relations and contact with other people,” he says. “And it also has to do with relaxation of techniques and habits that you might usually have in a social context.”

The good news is a little effort goes a long way to stopping the spread of illnesses this time of year. A little hand hygiene, cough coverage and common sense will go a long way to keeping your family healthy and happy through the holidays.

Practice hand hygiene

It seems easy enough – wash your hands often. But in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, sometimes those good habits are put aside.

All it takes is some little, dirty hands to reach into the candy bowl and leave a virus behind.

“Oftentimes, especially after the holidays, we’ll see an uptick in norovirous,” Sidebottom says, referring to a virus that typically puts the victim in gastrointestinal distress for 24-48 hours. “It comes from just not practicing appropriate precautions of washing hands.”

Sidebottom says that hand sanitizer is just as effective, maybe more.

“Not only does it work very quickly, it has no resistance to some of certain pathogens we run into,” he says. “It also has a lasting effect on the hands.”

Get a flu shot

For many people, especially younger adults who rarely get sick, a flu shot is a low priority. What they don’t realize is that while they may be at low risk for serious complications from the flu, others around them are not.

Viruses like the flu spread more easily this time of year in part because people spend more time inside. And when the holidays arrive, visitors from here and there bring their viruses with them.

Vaccinations aren’t just about protecting the individual – it’s about protecting influenza from spreading to those most vulnerable – young children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses like COPD and congestive heart failure.

“At the holidays, there’s often a mixture of ages, with a lot of little kids with older people,” Sidebottom says. “Hence, get a flu shot.”

If you’re sick, consider staying home

If you aren’t feeling well and believe you may be contagious, don’t feel bad about missing the party this year, especially if there will be is an elderly or chronically ill person there. Consider it your gift to the group.

“There is pressure in a social context,” Sidebottom says. “You have to go visit Grammy and Grampy, but maybe you shouldn’t because he has COPD.”

But he adds that when it comes to kids and colds, there are limits to keeping them quarantined.

“The problem tends to be that there is such a recurrent process in the winter time, when one cold leads to another for some kids, that it’s not tenable to keep them home all the time,” he says. “Instead, use it as an example to point out the importance of washing your hands.”

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