The holidays are rapidly approaching! Many look forward to this festive time to catch up with family and friends, and unwind a little. With all the congregating and merrymaking, it’s no wonder that there is easier spread of germs, and infections spike. Here are 6 tips for avoiding infection during the holiday season.
1- Get your vaccines! The flushot is the big one to get this season. However in the process of optimizing your health to ensure you have a wholesome, infection free holiday season, you should speak to your doctor about other vaccines that you may be eligible for. One may be the pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax, Prevenar), a vaccine to prevent serious infections from the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). This bacteria may cause infection of the blood stream, severe pneumonia, and meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain). A simple “cold” from a virus can weaken your immune system, making you more prone to bacterial infections such as pneumococcus.
2- Don’t overindulge. The periods immediately after major holidays, such a Thanksgiving and Christmas, are the busiest in clinics and hospitals. A lot of us overindulge in food and many people either forget, or choose not to take their medication. Those with diabetes develop dangerously elevated blood sugars, and those with hypertension develop dangerously increased blood pressure. Heart failure patients get too much fluid in their body including in the lungs from too much salt and extra liquids. Heart disease patients get heart attacks because extra blood goes to the stomach to digest larger than normal meals, thus starving blood supply to the heart. All these patients get admitted to hospital. The stress of the hospitalization weakens the immune system, and they acquire an infection in hospital such as pneumonia, or blood stream infection. Try your best to stick to dietary restrictions as much as possible during the holidays. Stay on track with taking your medicines, and if travelling, make sure to pack your pills first.
3- Be careful with food preparation and don’t eat stale leftovers. Food should be prepared in the most hygienic way. Be sure to properly wash fruits and vegetables, and ensure meats are thoroughly cooked. Don’t prepare raw meats on the same surface that you will use to prepare a raw salad. Eating salad contaminated with bacteria from uncooked meat can cause gastroenteritis. Leftover food should be properly stored and reheated to prevent infection.
4- Use discretion with alcohol. Overintoxication with alcohol results in disinhibition (among other problems). With disinhibition there is the chance of unprotected sexual encounters. This puts one at increased risk for sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and of course HIV. It’s well known (by doctors at least) that there is a spike in activity on the obstetric service every September (more births). One can therefore deduce that there is increased unprotected sexual activity in December. Don’t drop your guard.
5- Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. You are meeting up with people from other states and other parts of the world. They are bringing with them germs that you may not yet have been exposed to, therefore you would not have immunity towards them. This is especially true for viruses of which there are so many. Viruses have the tendency to change (mutate) so the predominant strain in one country may be different from that in another. One could develop an infection, often of the respiratory tract, such as a simple cold, or bronchitis, or even pneumonia. We don’t have vaccines against all germs so hand washing remains the cornerstone of infection prevention.
6- Minimize stress. Or maybe I should say minimize bad stress (distress), because some stress is good (eustress). Distress makes it harder for your body to fight infection due to increased production of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol which can make the immune system weaker if present in excess. So…try to get all the cooking organized early, don’t wait until the last minute to get gifts for everyone, and carefully plan travel so that there is enough time to arrive at the airport, make connecting flights, etc.
Here’s to an infection free, joyous, safe holiday season for everyone!