The time for holiday gatherings has drawn nigh. Whether you love them or merely tolerate them, they’re a part of life for many of us throughout the months of November and December.
Unfortunately, the latter months of the year are also a prime time for catching and spreading illness. Flu peak season begins in December, and of course colds and other respiratory illnesses abound as well. Throw in the possibility of stomach bugs and COVID-19, and no one would blame you for taking a dim view of spending time in close proximity with your fellow humans — even those you love.
For many of us, getting sick a time or two is unavoidable over the course of the fall and winter months, but you can take steps to up your chances of staying well this holiday season.
Tips for Staying Well
We tapped Dr. Dirk Steinert, Chief Medical Officer of Ambulatory Care for ThedaCare, to get his list of top five ways to avoid illness over the holidays.
Dr. Steinert has an oft-repeated saying. “It’s better to vaccinate than to vacillate.”
“Don’t overthink it. Vaccines are overwhelmingly safe,” he says. “Overall, vaccination has been one of the most lifesaving, life-prolonging measures public health has ever taken.”
In addition to staying up to date with routine vaccines, everyone ages 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine or booster, Dr. Steinert says. Both flu and COVID-19 claim tens of thousands of lives each year. No vaccine is 100% effective, but getting vaccinated can reduce your chances of becoming ill. If you do get sick, it can help prevent severe infection.
“The more we vaccinate, the more immunity we have as a community,” Dr. Steinert says. “We’ll protect those older individuals that we love in our community. We’ll also protect the younger ones, especially those under 6 months who are not eligible for the vaccine.”
2. Stay home if you’re sick.
We all have fear of missing out from time to time, but if you’re sick, staying home is the kind thing to do — for yourself and others. You can always get together with people another time. School, work, and that trip to the supermarket can wait.
As a general rule for most illnesses, you should stay home until you’re fever-free and your symptoms have resolved for 24 hours — without the use of pain- and fever-reducing medications. The guidelines for COVID-19 call for isolating for five days after your illness began. That includes isolating from people in your household.
“We’re all important people, but it’s important to take care of ourselves and others as well,” Dr. Steinert says.
3. Wash your hands.
Handwashing is a simple but highly effective to help keep yourself and others from getting sick.
“Think about singing the ‘ABC’ song once or ‘Happy Birthday’ twice,” Dr. Steinert says. “That’s how long you should be washing your hands — 20 seconds.”
If you’re hosting guests, make sure to frequently clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces as well. These may include door handles, light switches, faucets, microwaves, refrigerator handles, and stair rails.
4. Hydrate, eat well, and exercise.
Staying hydrated regulates body temperature, protects body organs and tissue, and lubricates joints, to name just a few. It’s an important step you can take to maintain wellness.
Likewise, eating well can boost your wellness. Maintain a healthy and balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid simple carbohydrates and processed foods.
Exercise can improve your brain health, help you manage weight, reduce your risk of disease, strengthen your bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
“Exercise also keeps stress down and promotes good sleep, which we all need around the holidays,” Dr. Steinert says.
5. Prioritize sleep.
“Adequate rest is just as important as adequate exercise,” Dr. Steinert says.
Getting quality sleep boosts your immunity, reduces stress, improves your mood, helps you maintain your weight, and decreases your risk for developing serious health problems such as heart disease or diabetes.
Where to Seek Care
Even if you take every precautionary step, illness can still find you. If you or your loved one gets sick this holiday season, ThedaCare is there.
- Many of our primary care clinics offer same-day appointments. You can check for openings at your clinic or nearby clinics by logging into MyThedaCare.
- Our urgent and walk-in care clinics provide convenient access to care, with some sites offering evening and holiday hours. They offer treatment and diagnostic testing for many minor injuries and conditions. Available services may include screenings, X-rays, ultrasounds, lab work, and immunizations. Urgent and walk-in care is available for new and existing patients, as well as children 3 months and older.
- Virtual care, which includes eVisits and virtual visits, allows you to receive care for certain conditions from the comfort of your home. Our virtual care options are available for patients 6 months and older.
- Emergency care is available round the clock through our emergency departments. This care setting is for major illnesses and injuries such as moderate to severe chest pain, serious head injuries, severe allergic reactions, severe burns, severe cuts with major bleeding, and stroke symptoms.
“It’s a great idea to have a plan for where to seek care when you need it,” Dr. Steinert says. “We want everyone to enjoy a peaceful and joyful holiday season.”