6 Hidden Holiday Health Risks

The festivities of the season can lighten the heart and lift the spirit – but they also can also make you sick.

By taking a few simple precautions, you can reduce your exposure to the hidden risks of the holiday season.

The culprits

The eggnog. For this traditional holiday merry-maker, homemade may not be the way to go. While store-bought eggnog is pasteurized, the homemade version often contains raw eggs, which carry a risk of Salmonella Enteritidis.

Bottom line: If the eggnog is left in the punch bowl during a party, take a pass. The longer the eggs sit at room temperature, the greater the risk of infection.

The turkey. If your holiday bird is frozen, be sure to defrost it properly. (Large holiday birds can take up to four or five days to defrost in the refrigerator.) Leaving the bird on the counter or defrosting it in hot water to save time can put the raw meat in the danger zone — between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit — for quick bacterial growth. (On a happier note, for fun and festive menu ideas, see Six ways to cook a turkey.)

Bottom line: to avoid contamination from scary germs such as Campylobacter Jejuni and Salmonella, be sure to follow basic food safety rules when preparing your turkey. (Read more tips to avoid Risky eating.)

The airplane. The airport and the cabin of an aircraft can be a breeding ground for colds and flu viruses. Be wary of germ hot spots including airport check-in kiosks, bathrooms and airplane tray tables. As a precautionary measure:

– Wash your hands often. Also consider carrying an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and wipes for disinfecting surfaces.

– Keep yourself hydrated.

– Because of the way the airplane cabin air is circulated, turn off the air vent over your head to keep your own air around you longer and put off breathing someone else’s. For better airflow, some experts also advise sitting in the front of the aircraft. (For more tips on travel health, see Beat travel bugs.)

Bottom line: Viruses can survive on a surface from two to eight hours. And keep in mind that surfaces at airports may be particularly risky because they can host viruses from all over the world, including many that locals do not have antibodies for.

The store. As in the case of airports, high traffic areas in the mall are a haven for germs. Danger areas include check out lines, bank machines, escalator handrails and shopping cart handles. Handling cash and using a PIN pad can also spread bugs.

Bottom line: To protect yourself, wash your hands frequently using soap and water or hand sanitizers. When navigating crowded places such as the store or the subway, as much as possible refrain from touching your nose, eyes or mouth. (For more ideas see Germs are not for sharing.)

The party. The buffet table is an understandably popular gathering place at parties -– which unfortunately also makes it a germy area.

Bottom line: People standing around the food may spread droplets from coughs or sneezes up to three feet. Plus, shared utensils may pick up germs from sick people’s hands.

The mistletoe. No one wants to think about this, but the only way to catch a cold faster than breathing in a sneeze is by kissing someone who’s already infected.

Bottom line: Even if your ‘mistletoe catch’ seems healthy enough, bear in mind that sick people can still infect others for up to 72 hours before they show symptoms themselves. Bah humbug!

For more tips on avoiding cold and flu, click here.

Sources: Forbes.com; The Mayo Clinic.


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