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With so many holiday parties to attend, is it even possible to lower your risk of catching someone else's virus? According to the experts, there are steps you can take to reduce the chance that you and your kids will exchange germs with fellow partygoers.
Dr. Steven Pelletier, MD, a family physician in private practice in Rockland, Ont., and a member of The College of Family Physicians of Canada offers the following helpful advice.
1. A sick relative who likes to hug
Many of the common viral illnesses are often transmitted either through direct person-to-person contact (shaking hands, hugs, kisses) or droplets transmitted from the respiratory track (coughing, sneezing).
"The practice of touching each other during a greeting is probably not the healthiest, but it isn't likely to change," says Dr. Pelletier. "Frequent hand washing and use of sanitizers is still the best protection."
If you have any doubt about whether you may be starting to get sick, keep some distance from others. If Great Aunt Gertie toddles toward you with her arms outstretched and her lips puckered, step back and politely tell her that you might be coming down with the flu or a cold.
2. Communal food bowls
"Common bowls are problematic [in terms of exchanging germs]," says Dr. Pelletier. The host should strive to give partygoers as many options as possible that won't bring them into direct contact with food. For example, putting out spoons to scoop nuts or dollop dip on plates and tongs to grab chips or vegetables is a smart plan.
3. Food that's been sitting out
Not sure whether those appetizers have been sitting out for hours or if they are freshly cooked or cooled? Take one and test the temperature. Cooked foods should be served on clean plates with clean utensils. Keep hot foods at 140ºF (60ºC) and cold foods below 40ºF (4ºC). If you aren't sure whether something is safe, avoid it.
Keep in mind that children ages five and under are at increased risk of food poisoning because their immune systems are still developing and they can't fight infection as well as adults. Others who may vulnerable include those with serious illnesses or chronic conditions such as cancer and diabetes. For more safe food-handing tips, check out Health Canada's guidelines at www.hc-sc.gc.ca.
4. Groups of kids sharing food and toys
For small children who like to share, try giving them each their own bowl or plate and have them come to you for a refill. "It isn't a guarantee that they won't share, but you may be able to make a game of it," says Dr. Pelletier. A hand-washing break a few times during the party is also a great idea and make sure to clean toys with a wet wipe after the party is over.
5. Dealing with food allergies
Food allergies or intolerances can be a serious problem at a party. "The difficulty is that it may be very difficult to ensure with certainty that the food you're eating at the party is free of the substance to which you are allergic," says Dr. Pelletier.
If you or your child has a serious allergy to a particular substance, it's best to notify the host ahead of time. However, the safest strategy is to make or buy your own snacks to take with you and eat only those.
6. Overdoing it on drinks
If you're worried that drinking too much during the holiday season is affecting your immune system, the simple answer to this question is no. "To my knowledge, alcohol taken in too great an amount at a party is unlikely to have any important impact on your immune system or your ability to fight off an illness," says Dr. Pelletier.
That said, the over-consumption of alcohol will likely make you careless when it comes to protecting yourself and others from contracting viral illnesses, in that you may throw caution to the wind and scoop big handfuls of nuts and chips with your hands and not monitor your kids closely.
For festive recipes, DIY tips, crafts and more, visit our ultimate holiday planning guide.