Concord, NH – The holiday season is a time to celebrate, give thanks, and reflect. It is also a time to pay special attention to your health.
During the winter holidays, people spend more time with family, food and friends. That can mean good times and lifetime memories – but with all the activities, it can also too often result in increased stress, poor health and nutrition decisions, and even coming down with a cold or the flu.
“In New Hampshire, holiday season is also flu season,” said NH Public Health Director Dr José Montero. “This year we have already had two waves of flu outbreaks statewide from the H1N1 flu virus. We normally see peaks and valleys during each flu season, so we assume there will be another peak in the future. We just can’t predict when that might happen.”
Typically, during the holiday season, there is an increase in state-to-state travel and social events, which increases the risk of transmission of the H1N1 virus. Because the flu spreads by coughing and sneezing, state health officials are warning residents to be extra careful this year to avoid close contact with people who are sick with flu-like symptoms. They also urge everybody to protect themselves by getting both the H1N1 and the seasonal flu vaccine.
“If someone in the family is sick, they should keep away from others,” said Montero, “but the best protection is vaccination.”
College students on vacation are particularly susceptible to getting the flu because of vacation travel, exposure to the virus at holiday group gatherings, and their active lifestyle. Healthy young adults and children are at higher risk of complications from H1N1 than they are from the usual seasonal flu, because few younger people have any natural immunity.
“The H1N1 vaccine is now available to everyone, and we are especially encouraging people under 25 and those at higher risk to get the vaccine,” says Dr. Montero. “It is the single best way to prevent the H1N1 flu. We will continue holding public vaccination clinics through the holiday season and school vacations as long as vaccine is available.”
Staying healthy through the holidays, however, requires more than vaccination. Winter weather can bring its own health and safety dangers, as can holiday traveling, feasting, and winter sports activities. Give the gift of health and safety to yourself and others by following these holiday tips:
Stay warm – Cold temperatures can cause serious health problems, especially in infants and older adults. Bundle up with layers of clothing to stay warm and dry, and cover exposed skin. Stay inside when there is extreme cold, especially in times of high winds, to avoid frostbite and hypothermia. Avoid perspiring or becoming over-tired. If clothing gets wet, go inside as soon as possible and remove it to let it dry. Shivering is an indicator that your body is losing heat and it’s time to go in.
Be Active –Daily physical activity helps you reduce stress, prevents weight gain, helps you sleep better, and improves your physical and mental health. Daily exercise supports healthy growth and development for kids and teens. Find fun ways to stay active, from winter sports to dancing to your favorite holiday music.
Handle and prepare food safely – Parties, family dinners, and other gatherings where food is served are all part of the holiday cheer. But the merriment can change to misery if food makes you or others ill. Remember these simple steps: wash hands and surfaces often, avoid cross-contamination, cook foods to proper temperatures, and refrigerate promptly.
Eat healthy – Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit your portion sizes and consumption of foods high in fat and sugar. Choose fresh fruit as a festive and sweet substitute for candy. Select just one or two of your favorites from the host of tempting foods.
Watch the kids – Children are at high risk for injuries, so keep a watchful eye on kids when they're eating and playing. Keep potentially dangerous toys, choking hazards (like coins and hard candy), and other objects out of kids' reach. Make sure toys are used properly. Wear a helmet when skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and tubing to help prevent head injuries.
Prevent Fires and Carbon Monoxide Exposure – Most residential fires occur during the winter months, so be careful to never leave fireplaces, space heaters, stoves, or candles unattended. Keep a fire extinguisher near each heating source, and keep their charge up-to-date. Don't use emergency generators, grills, or other fuel-burning devices inside your home or garage. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Test them and replace their batteries regularly.
Take the following precautions to prevent the spread of flu and other illnesses this winter:
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home when you are ill to avoid making others sick.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you are coughing or sneezing—or cough or sneeze into your elbow—to avoid spreading germs.
Wash your hands often to help avoid becoming sick and spreading germs to others.
Refrain from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth because hands are the best germ carriers.
Practice good health habits, such as getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, being physically active, and drinking plenty of water.
Ask your healthcare provider what vaccinations and tests you should get based on your age, lifestyle, travel plans, medical history, and family health history.
Get vaccinated for both H1N1 and seasonal flu at your earliest opportunity.
For more information on H1N1visit the H1N1 web site at www.nh.gov, where there is an official Flu Vaccine Locator that will allow you to find the next public clinic in your area. Or simply call the NH Public Inquiry Line between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm by dialing 211.