The holidays: That cozy time of year when friends and family gather under one roof to ward off the cold, indulge in food and drink and share each other’s company.
And each other’s germs.
The winter holiday season just happens to bring people within range for disease transmission, just as cold and flu season is getting its legs.
“We hope people enjoy the holidays,” said Dr. Henry Taylor, deputy health officer at the Carroll County Health Department. “But remember that the flu also enjoys the holiday season because it is easy to spread throughout the family.”
It’s never too late to get a flu shot, Taylor said, and Maryland’s flu season hasn’t really taken off yet, providing people a chance to get ahead of the virus — the health department will host free flu shot clinics for children on two Wednesdays, Nov. 29 and Dec. 13.
There are also proven techniques for mitigating your risk of getting sick, be it from flu or cold, beginning with being aware of your own potential to spread disease if you head into a holiday gathering with the sniffles.
“If anyone is sick, they should maintain a distance — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 3 feet of distance — so that the droplets don’t spread from coughs and sneezes,” Taylor said. “Use clean handkerchiefs or disposable tissue.”
The good news is that these techniques will help prevent the spread of any upper respiratory disease spread through droplets, from flu to strep to whooping cough, Taylor said, but the indispensable tool is always frequent and thorough hand washing.
“People get tired of public health experts saying it, but it is true that hand washing is the most effective means of interrupting transmission,” he said. “The goal is to break transmission of the bacteria or virus from one person who is sick to somebody who is healthy and susceptible. We do that with hand washing, we do that with the sick person containing their secretions, and we do it by immunizing our children.”
Immunization in particular, Taylor said, has made many formerly dreaded diseases — such as the highly infectious measles — fairly rare, which can serve as a reminder both to follow the childhood immunization schedule and to get flu shots for the whole family.
The health department recommends getting the quadrivalent version of the flu vaccine, that protects against four different strains and is available from your primary care physician and some pharmacies. The health department clinics will also offer the quadrivalent vaccine for children ages 6 months to 18 years. Many pharmacies will not administer the vaccine to children younger than 9.