With Christmas just a few days away and a week before the New Year, the rush to find the perfect present is in full effect. Unfortunately, the joys that come with sharing materialistic manifestations of merriment can also turn into the ruing reality of the regrettable gift (hopefully with the appropriate receipt enclosed).
What is even more frustrating than having to wait in line at the gift exchange is the realization that even though no one wishes to be involved in this tragic act, it seems to happen every year accompanied with the now infamous explanation, "It's the thought that counts."
There is also another type of undesirable sharing that happens every year around this time although it cannot be excused by this simple saying. In fact, the opposite is true. The spread of infectious diseases, while common, is probably more unwanted than a Christmas sweater. Thankfully, it can be prevented with steps that are for the most part easy and require only a few minor changes in our actions.
The first step is to identify those who could potentially infect you. While not all diseases are easy to spot, there are some fairly common symptoms that may help along the way. Coughs, sneezes, sniffles and scratchy throats are the simple indicators. Others may include pale and clammy skin as well as less focus. When the immune system is fighting, the rest of the body and mind is struggling. Should you see such a person, keep outside of a three-foot radius and avoid hugs, kisses and even handshakes.
The second step is to have a backup plan should step one not be possible. If you must have contact with such a person -- such as a retail store clerk or an overzealous relative -- then ensure that the contact is minimal and quickly followed up with either alcohol-based hand sanitizer or an antiseptic wipe. While these can never replace traditional soap and water for hygiene, they are fantastic supplements and can help in these situations to help keep you safe.
The third step is to ensure all foods are prepared properly. There is nothing worse than sitting down at a warm and inviting dinner only to have to pray for peace whilst on a cold and unwelcome toilet. Public health officials know that a handful of foodborne pathogens are making the rounds in everything from raw meats to imported fruits and vegetables. Yet, even the most compulsive cook might stray away from protocol in the midst of the holiday spirit and the propensity of guests to congregate in the kitchen. The rules are as simple as the 4 C's:
- Cook all meats to a proper temperature (usually 71◦C)
- Clean all surfaces regularly with detergent and disinfectant at the end
- Don't Cross Contaminate -- keep all individual dishes separate
- Chill everything afterwards and if over 5 days old, throw it out.
The fourth step is to invite good germs. Over a hundred years ago, the concept of "opening the windows" to let the good germs in was introduced by nursing heroine Florence Nightingale. Since then, research has shown that the key was an increase in the microbial diversity of the environment. With more good germs in the air, on surfaces, and even in and on our bodies, there was a shift away from infectious disease. This may be difficult in windowless areas such as offices, malls and convention centres but should be relatively easy at home.
Apart from bringing diversity to the environment, increasing the number of good germs in the gut and on the skin will also be an effective way to help prevent illness, especially in children. The ingestion of probiotics is one way to help, however naturally fermented foods can be eaten at any time and can make a delicious addition to any table offering. They may be harder to find as they are not yet staples in the standard grocery store, but well worth the effort to locate, purchase and enjoy.
The final step has less to do with getting an infectious disease and more about preventing its spread. If you happen to be one of the unlucky ones who is already suffering from any of the dozen or so regularly circulating bacteria and viruses, then acknowledge the sickness not only to yourself but others.
While it may have been improper to announce an illness in the past, today, it is perfectly acceptable to reveal that you and your immune system are quarrelling with a persistent pest. This will help to signal your intentions to avoid spreading to others and more importantly, prevent the appearance of an anti-social behaviour.
Bad gift-giving, whether material or microbial, should never happen. While there may never be a means to prevent waking up to a disappointing present under the tree, you can minimize the possibility of sharing infection. Hopefully, with these five steps, you can set aside the worry and focus on the spirit of the Holiday Season and partake in rest, reflection, relaxation and of course regalement. On a personal note, I want to wish you all happiness and health heading into 2014.