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Dr. Wood: How to minimize the germ sharing during holiday family time

By following a few simple guidelines - such as washing your hands properly for at least 20 seconds - you can avoid most of the pesky germs that could make you sick during the Holidays.
By following a few simple guidelines - such as washing your hands properly for at least 20 seconds - you can avoid most of the pesky germs that could make you sick during the Holidays. Olympian file photo

There are many common health issues that affect kids and their families. While most of these ailments can show up anytime, holiday travel, and lots of hugs and kisses being passed around, can make sharing germs more likely.

There are, however, some easy ways to help decrease your chance of getting sick. Here are some of the most common holiday health issues, along with ways to avoid them.

Influenza (Flu), fevers, and colds

This is a big one, not the least because it can ruin your whole holiday. When one person catches influenza — or other bugs that cause fevers, chills, runny nose, or coughs — it’s not uncommon for the whole family to get sick. However, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of influenza this year, and every year:

  • Get your flu shot. It can prevent you getting sick, and if you do get the flu, it should reduce the severity.

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with the crook of your elbow to avoid passing germs around.

  • If you have a fever, you are likely contagious. Try and remove yourself from the group, at least until the fever passes.

  • Wash your hands — and wash them often — with warm water and soap. Hand sanitizers are better than nothing, but not as good as hand washing.

  • Stay hydrated. Whether you’re already sick, or trying to stay healthy, staying hydrated is important to help your body protect itself.

  • Avoid sharing utensils, cups or other personal items.

  • Dress in layers for playing outside in winter weather, and stay dry.

Food poisoning

Getting sick during the holidays is no fun for anyone, but making your family or guests sick may feel even worse. Food poisoning is the result of harmful bacteria, or the growth of harmful bacteria, in your food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer some easy ways to keep your food safe:

  • Clean: Wash your hands and work surfaces often. Germs can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops.

  • Separate: Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from ready-to-eat foods in your shopping cart, refrigerator, and meal preparation area.

  • Cook: Cook food to the right internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer.

  • Chill: Keep your refrigerator below 40 degrees F. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.

Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

This disease is caused by an enterovirus and can cause sore throat, fever, sores on the mouth, hands, feet, or bottom, as well as ulcers on the tongue and mouth. It can be shared by children and adults, but is most common in kids. It generally clears up on its own in seven to 10 days.

  • Hand washing is the best way to avoid spreading (or getting) HFMD.

  • Avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, etc.

  • Disinfect toys and frequently touched surfaces

  • An antiseptic throat spray or over-the-counter pain medication can help with discomfort.

  • Stay hydrated.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Although it’s rarely serious, this unpleasant infection can be caused by a variety of things, including bacteria and viruses. It is highly contagious, and can cause itchiness, burning, redness, blurred vision, and discharge. The treatment for Pink Eye is dependent on the likely cause, but a health care provider can provide medication if necessary. Saline eye drops and gentle, frequent washing of the outside of the eye and eyelashes with a tear-free shampoo also can help. To prevent the spread of pink eye:

  • Avoid touching your eyes

  • Wash hands frequently

  • Avoid sharing pillows and washcloths.

Stress

Maintain a healthy work-life balance and manage your stress by keeping holiday commitments and spending in check. Balance work, home and play so none of them is too overwhelming.

Travel

Never drink and drive, or let someone who has been drinking get behind the wheel. Smoking marijuana also makes driving unsafe. Be sure to put your phone down, and buckle up.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.
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