Avoiding Unwanted Christmas ‘Gifts’: Holiday Precautions Against Infection

As the old saying goes, ‘Christmas is a time for giving’—a time to share gifts and reconnect with friends, family, and loved ones.  It’s also the time of year that many of us get sick and unintentionally spread illness to all those around us— whether it’s a cold, flu, or bacterial infection.  While receiving socks and underwear under the tree may be disappointing— or downright depressing—coughing or vomiting through the holiday season doesn’t exactly make for fond yuletide memories or warm Christmas cheer.

In fact, lining up for the bathroom after eating a partially cooked turkey has been known to scar even the most diehard Santa fans.  So, in the true spirit of Christmas prevention, we’ve come up with a short list of health tips, so you and your loved ones can avoid a less than ideal holiday experience.

  1. Hand Sanitization: Washing your hands with plain soap— not even the antibacterial kind— has been shown to reduce the incidence of childhood disease.  Because these same diseases affect adults—even those with strong Christmas cheer—it’s important to note: hand washing saves lives.  A 2005 study, published in the Lancet, details the positive health effects that hand washing has on poorer children in Karachi, Pakistan.  In the assigned groups that washed regularly with plain soap, serious diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea were reduced.  Interestingly, plain soap was as just as effective as antibacterial soap.
  2. Avoid Undercooked Poultry: While not everyone will go the traditional route and cook a festive turkey for the holidays, for those who do, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Firstly, raw poultry is teeming with bacteria: campylobacter, salmonella, and e. coli.  Secondly, if your turkey is improperly cooked, you are exposing yourself and your digestive tract to potential disaster!   Remember, a food thermometer is your best friend.
    • According to the CDC, Turkey must be either thawed in conditions below 5 degrees Celsius, or defrosted in the microwave—otherwise bacteria may have the chance to multiply
    • Stuffing must be cooked separately from the bird
    • All portions must reach an internal temperature of 74 degrees Celsius, on the meat thermometer, to be safely cooked.

3. Don’t Share Eating Utensils: With family members and loved ones, we often let our guard down.  It’s easy to share a favourite desert with the same fork, or use personal utensils to serve ourselves from a shared bowl. Unfortunately, many viral infections—such as the common cold— are contagious before any symptoms develop— often up to 24 hours beforehand.  While all parties at the table may seem healthy, there’s a good chance that at least one of them is harbouring a secret germ that kill the yuletide mood.  Shared utensils are a ‘no-no’ at the best of times; at Christmas this rule is doubly important.

Getting Christmas right can be a lot of work, while getting it wrong can mean a lot of trouble!  On the more serious side of things, hospitals are usually filled to capacity during the holiday season; beds are often in short supply, due to increased patient demand, and obvious staff shortages.  For the average person, this means a longer stay time— not exactly a Christmas dream come true.  With a few simple precautions taken, Christmas can be everything it’s supposed to be: a magic holiday, filled with happy, lasting memories.

Happy holidays!


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