Tips for avoiding holiday illnesses

It’s often said that the holidays are a time for giving. For me, they seem to be a time for getting … sick, that is. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve spent hard-earned vacation time sick in bed instead of enjoying the time off I’ve scheduled for Christmas and New Year’s because I couldn’t avoid a bug. 

Before I headed out to join the crowds to buy gifts this year, I reached out to Dr. Joshua Septimus, clinical associate professor at Weill-Cornell and Houston Methodist Hospital, for any advice he could give me for avoiding holiday illnesses. But first I asked Dr. Septimus why it seems that people get sick more often during the fall and winter.

Getting sleep, exercising, eating well & washing your hands can help prevent seasonal illnesses Click To Tweet

“We think people get sick more often during the winter months because they are in close quarters and outside less,” Dr. Septimus explained. “Certain viruses also just follow certain seasonal trends that we don’t understand. For example respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the fall and influenza (flu) in the winter.”

So perhaps joining the mass of humanity at the mall isn’t the best way to avoid germs. But it’s not always easy to avoid crowds during the holidays, especially when there’s shopping to do and people to visit. However, there are some things that we can do to help prevent getting sick.

“The most important may sound trite but isn’t: wash your hands!” Dr. Septimus says. “This is especially important when touching doorknobs. I always use a tissue to turn off faucets in public restrooms and to open the doors.”

While the advice may seem cliché, it’s something to consider as you reach for that Elsa doll that who knows how many runny-nosed children have handled in the last few days. During the holidays, thousands of shoppers are liable to put their hands on surfaces you’ll come into contact with – and inevitably some of those people will have cooties.

If you don’t have the opportunity to wash your hands, alcohol-based hand sanitizer also works well when you’re out and about, according to Dr. Septimus.

While some people gobble up things like vitamin C or products that claim to boost your immune system, Dr. Septimus says those things don’t really work. Instead, he recommends a more common sense approach to staying healthy.

“Get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly,” Dr. Septimus says, as these things really will boost your immune system. One more thing that you can do is to get a flu shot as the fall and winter are flu season.

Staying healthy during the holidays may take a little work, but it’s not impossible. But if you want to avoid any possibility of catching a bug in the next few months you could also consider doing all your shopping online. With my track record, I might catch a computer virus.

Protect your child from RSV (photo credit: CDC)