Spending time with others brings a lot of joy during the holiday season, but it can also bring germs along the way. Parties, travel and shopping all include risks of picking up an illness from someone else nearby.
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The first rule of protecting yourself against picking up bacteria and viruses is: Be smart about what you do. That means you should consider everything you touch to be something that could transmit a virus or bacteria to you.
“We can’t protect ourselves against every single germ out there, but we have to be conscious of what we come in contact with, particularly at a time when we are exposed to so many more people in crowds, on the streets and in the stores,” says infectious disease specialist Alan Taege, MD.
1. Keep your hands away from your face
Washing your hands or applying an alcohol-rub hand cleaner every five minutes is what it would take to keep your hands germ-free. That just isn’t possible. But, you have another option: Decrease your chances of transmitting whatever virus or bacteria you’ve touched to your body by keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. These are the soft, wet areas where germs can take hold and multiply.
“When you do need to put something into your mouth,” Dr. Taege says, “that’s when you should first wash your hands or use a sterile hand cleanser.”
Of course, currency and credit cards, which get handled by numerous customers and salespeople, are also flying fast and furious between hands throughout the holidays. So, again, keep your hands away from your face and wash them when you can whenever you’ve been shopping.
2. Stay home if you’re sick
Another important piece of advice from Dr. Taege: When you do feel yourself becoming ill, just stay home. This helps everyone. There’s no reason to make a bunch of other people sick with whatever it is that you’ve contracted.
You’d want other people to do that so you wouldn’t get sick, right?
“We’ve been told that forever, but people don’t listen, because we’re all so driven to go to work and maintain our commitments,” he says. “But the truth is that we’ll just expose another 5, 10, 15 or 100 people. So whether it’s a cold or the flu, do your coworkers and friends a favor and stay home.”
3. Be germ-aware while traveling
If you’re traveling during the holiday season, follow the same suggestions to minimize your risk. With filtration systems, airplane air is better than it used to be. But it’s not perfect. So, keep your hands away from your face and wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer when you can. Stay home if you’re sick, or at least cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. The same holds true on any public transportation.
4. Take in holiday joy, not germs, at a party
That buffet spread at your neighbor’s house looks delicious, and so do the cookies your coworkers brought to the office. But wait a minute. If you’re at a party where common serving utensils are being shared, don’t use your fingers to eat. Get your own utensils, and don’t share glasses.
5. Strengthen your immune system to fight off illness
Dr. Taege recommends taking care of yourself so you’ll have a better chance of fighting off that virus you got in the checkout line. Start by getting plenty of rest. After all, you can’t drive yourself 20 hours a day, get no rest and expect to stay healthy.
Getting your flu vaccine shot every year is also a great step toward staying healthy. “Anybody over the age of 6 months, unless there’s some absolute contraindication, should consider getting an influenza vaccine,” Dr. Taege advises.
Staying healthy during the holiday season is possible if you put a little bit of thought into what you do. “It’s really all a matter of common sense,” Dr. Taege says.