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5 Tips for Staying Well During the Holidays

Family in an urban setting during winter. From getting a flu shot to making sure holiday food is prepared safely, Drexel Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine specialist Dr. Ian Sheffer provides tips for staying healthy this holiday season.

1. Get your flu shot

Each year, approximately 40 million Americans contract influenza and roughly 900,000 are hospitalized because of it. Getting a flu shot not only helps to prevent getting the flu, it also prevents you from passing the virus onto others without knowing it. Unlike many other viruses, people infected with influenza can pass the virus to others for up to two days before they start to feel ill. Despite what some may say, you absolutely cannot get the flu from getting the flu shot. All vaccines recommended today are made from inactivated (killed) flu virus. Some people may get symptoms like mild muscle pain, a bit of fatigue or a low-grade fever that mimic the flu, but these are short-lived compared to the flu itself and come from your body mounting an immune response to the vaccine, not from an infection.

2. Wash your hands, cover your cough, and consider staying home

In addition to influenza, there are many other viruses that circulate during the fall and winter months. Viruses such as parainfluenza virus, coronavirus, and rhinovirus (among many others), all cause what we know as the common cold, and all circulate very easily in crowded, indoor settings. Simple, old-fashioned hand washing will kill viruses you may have on your hands before they can get to your nose and throat to make you ill. If you’ve caught a cold, make it harder for others to get it by covering your cough -- ideally by coughing into the crook of your arm rather than your hand or a tissue. Finally, if you feel like you might be too ill to go out, you probably are. Keep yourself and others healthy by staying home as much as possible if you’re ill.

3. Cook smarter

When preparing and serving meals for the holidays, avoid illness by cooking your food until it’s hot enough to kill foodborne bacteria. Though the cooking time most recipes give is helpful for planning your menu, a cooking time alone won’t tell you if your food is hot enough to kill bacteria. The amount of time it takes a given dish to get to a safe temperature can vary widely depending on the size of what’s being cooked, the size of your oven and the temperature of the food when you put it into the oven. Avoid uncertainty by using a food thermometer to ensure your food is cooked just right. Not only will you make a safer meal, you’ll be able to avoid over-cooking more easily. Food thermometers can be purchased for as little as a few dollars at most grocery stores. A complete list of cooking temperatures, as well as a treasure trove of other food safety tips can be found courtesy of the USDA at

4. Travel safely

Holiday travel can be stressful and chaotic, even in the best of circumstances. Make it easier on yourself and your family by allowing enough time to get where you’re going. According to research done by AAA, distracted/fatigued driving leads to approximately 300,000 accidents per year, about 5,000 of which are fatal. Most, if not all of these accidents can be avoided. If you stay later than expected with friends or family, consider leaving the next morning or at least taking a nap before you head out. If you’ve had a bit more holiday cheer than expected at a party, leave the driving to a friend, call a car service or take public transit. Holiday travel is also a timely reminder to do simple things like ensuring that your car is in a state of good repair, that you have a basic first aid kit and a few emergency supplies on hand in case they’re needed. With winter just around the corner, taking a few simple measures now will keep you prepared until spring rolls around again. A helpful guide can be found at

5. Balance it out

While the holidays are certainly a time for fun, friends and family, they can also be busy, hectic and stressful. Maintain your own sanity by making sure that in addition to taking time for others, you take some time for yourself. Have a string of weekend parties and get-togethers? Balance them out by making some time to recuperate during the week. Worried about over-indulging in party food and sweet treats? Balance your diet by eating lighter the day after that big holiday get together. Keeping yourself rested and refreshed will not only make the holidays more enjoyable overall, but will help you feel better as well.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

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