Nobody likes getting sick, but it’s even worse if your illness ruins an otherwise lovely holiday.
“For many of us, Thanksgiving is the one time a year when all of the family gets together,” said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “But those big gatherings are a prime time for passing around illnesses.”
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid your family—unless you really want to—but there are some precautions you can take, Prescott said.
“OMRF scientists have done extensive research into influenza viruses and dangerous bacteria, but you don’t need an advanced degree to avoid them,” he said. “Just wash your hands. You don’t have to be obsessive about it, but make sure you clean up before meals.”
When we touch people or things, germs build up on our hands and they find their way into the body through the eyes, mouth and nose.
“It’s doubly important to wash up if you’re dealing with young children—whose immature immune systems are especially vulnerable—or helping to cook the big meal,” Prescott said.
Getting sick the day of the party is the worst, but getting sick the day after is a close second, which is why food safety is also important.
“Refrigeration is a miracle for fighting nasty bacteria like E. coli,” he said. “Keep cold items cold before cooking to stop bacteria from multiplying and cook your food at the proper temperature to kill off any of the survivors.”
Making that big meal was probably tiring, but make sure somebody has enough energy to put up the leftovers. Anything left out at room temperature for more than two hours should probably be thrown away.
“There are two excellent benefits to putting that food away,” Prescott said. “It will keep leftovers safe for eating and it will make sure some leftovers make it through the night.”
Whether or not you’re having a big meal with all the relatives or an intimate gathering with just your closest loves ones, the most important way to insure your family stays healthy is for all of you to get a flu shot.
“More than 5 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu each year, and about 200,000 people are hospitalized because of it,” Prescott said. “The flu virus constantly changes, so last year’s booster won’t do you much good this year.”
Staying healthy isn’t just good for the body, it’s good for the reputation, he said.
“My family gets mad if I finish off the pumpkin pie,” said Prescott. “Imagine how angry they’d be if I also got them sick.”