Dr. Vicki Rackner

Article Summary:

How to stay healthy, avoid the flu, and still attend holiday parties.

Flu Prevention Over the Holidays

No flu shot for you this year? Can you keep yourself safe? Yes!

Even though flu viruses may be lurking at the next holiday party you attend, you can take simple steps to avoid the bugs. Prevention can mean the difference between a joyous holiday season and a miserable week in bed coughing and sneezing.

The holiday season is a social time, and many of the things Miss Manners tells us to do to be part of civilized society contribute to the spread of the flu: shaking hands, talking in close groups of people, sharing food.

I invite you to challenge the boundaries of conventional etiquette to stay healthy.


Think before you eat.
The flu germs are spread by hand-to-mouth transmission. So when someone with the flu sneezes, the germs land on the doorknob, where they can live for a few hours. You open the door, transfer germs to your hand and then grab a carrot at the snack table. Wash before you eat, especially finger food.

Is that my wine?
Identify your glass. A nice hostess gift is decorative wine glass jewelry that gets placed on the stem. If you're using paper cups write your name on it. Or keep your glass in your hand at all times. Set it down on a table, and you're inviting a mixup.

Rethink hand shaking
Have you ever wondered what to do if someone sneezes on his right hand, and then extends it in a hand shake? You could say, "Nice to meet you," without extending your hand or, "Nice to meet you. I'd shake your hand except I'm coming down with something, and I don't want to pass it along to you." Or you can shake hands and then go directly to the bathroom and wash.

You may elect simply not to shake hands by saying, "It's flu season, let's just smile and nod and keep our own germs." Others may appreciate your thoughtfulness. Passengers on board cruise ships infected with viruses these past few seasons found themselves creating their own sort of handshake: an elbow touch.


Have a family meeting and ask, "What can we do to stay healthy this season? How can we remember to wash our hands?" Write down all ideas from all family members, including the wee ones. Then develop a plan. Notice when your kids and partner do things to which you agreed. Remember, kids get great delight in mastery. They're wired to please you.

Develop your family non-touch greeting to replace kisses. Maybe a Spock Vulcan hand gesture with "May the force be with you." You can have a family contest and give a prize for the winner.

Have soap (non-antibacterial) and disposable towels for drying in the kitchen and bathrooms and hand-sanitizers in your purse, briefcase or backpack. Keep a bottle in your car to use after punching numbers into the ATM or handling money at the drive-through windows. Always squirt a little into everyone's hands after shopping and touching grocery carts.

If someone is sick at your house, call your invited guests and let them know. You can say, "We've been looking forward to having you over. Just want to let you know that Lee came home early with a fever. It doesn't look serious and I think the risk to your family is low. Just want to give you the option of rescheduling."

When you're invited as a guest you can say, "We didn't get flu vaccine this year, and I'm taking health seriously. Would it work for you if I called the day of the event and we could exchange a health report with the option to reschedule if someone's sick?"


Cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow or upper sleeve. You don't generally touch things with that part of your body.

Be proactive about health at work. Approach your team leader or HR department and say, "We're not vaccinated this year. One sick employee could get many of us sick. How about if we develop a policy that goes in writing that states we'll stay home if we're sick. That way we'll have a productive work force."

Use caution at the gym. Clip a little hand sanitizer bottle to your belt for use after touching weight equipment or any hard surface.

Be proactive with your relatives. Write an email that says, "We look forward to our family holiday gathering. Nellie is going through chemotherapy and we want to make sure she stays healthy. What do we do if someone gets sick? Will we stay home? Have a special place for sick kids?"

Be sure all health care providers wash before they examine you. If you don't see them wash, ask politely if they will do so again in your presence.

Your goal is to keep you, your family and co-workers healthy this holiday season. Protect yourself with good hand washing and common sense. Be considerate, so you don't pass your cold or flu germs if, despite all your prevention techniques, one happens to make you sick.

And remember, health is your home. Even though you are in the same room as germs, your immune system does a brilliant job of keeping you healthy.

Dr. Vicki is a board-certified surgeon who left the operating room to help families take the most direct path from illness to optimal health. Her book, "The Personal Health Journal", will help you understand and direct your loved one's health story. Empower yourself with the tips and tools that will help you partner with their doctor more effectively & save your loved one's life at www.drvicki.org.

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