According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 2 million people each year acquire an infection while in the hospital. And thanks to an overuse of antibiotics, resistant bacterial infections are on the rise. Many of us carry these fierce pathogens without knowing it, picking them up in locker rooms, gyms, and schools. They can attack compromised immune systems or weasel into surgical openings or minor wounds. And with complications like pneumonia developing after H1N1 infections, experts are concerned about superbugs planting their hooks in flu patients.
But you can protect yourself from mutant menaces like Clostridium difficile and methicillin–resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA):
- Wash your hands for 30 seconds. Avoid antibacterial soap, which doesn’t perform any better than regular suds… and could increase your susceptibility to resistant strains.
- If you’re hospitalized, ask caregivers and visitors to scrub up in your presence.
- Always use soap and water to clean any scrape or cut immediately to reduce risk for infection. Even minor abrasions or bites can turn sinister, so seek treatment if the skin turns red, swollen, or tender.
- Monitor high fevers, breathing troubles, and coughs; get medical attention if they persist, or go away but return.
- Take antibiotics only for bacterial infections — viruses don’t respond to the drugs. If you’re prescribed an antibiotic by your doctor, take the full dosage for the number of days prescribed — no more, no less.
A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed an increase in deaths from impaired driving crashes during the holiday season. The analysis states “fatalities associated with impaired driving, expressed as number of fatalities per day, are higher during the Christmas and New Year’s Day holiday periods as compared to fatalities during the other days in December.”
Of course, this serious issue requires year–round attention. In 2008, 11,773 people were killed in alcohol–impaired driving crashes and 1.4 million were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
- Make sure you and your loved ones get home safely and live to celebrate the new year:
- Never drink and drive: Even 1 or 2 drinks affect your driving ability. Your best bet is not drinking or staying home.
- Have a designated driver: Find a trustworthy person to drive home; then find ways to reward their generosity.
- Drive defensively: If you’re driving, remain alert to other drivers and your surroundings on the road.
- Don’t let friends drive drunk: Ignore your friend’s convincing pleas and talk them out of driving.
- Take a taxi: Arrange for a cab or driving service; keep the contact info in your cell phone just in case.
Shoveling snow is no simple chore. Combine frosty temperatures and heavy lifting — a driveway can contain hundreds of pounds of snow — and you have a recipe for injury or worse. Each year, thousands of people seek medical care for sprains, muscle strains, and lacerations sustained during snow removal. Since shoveling raises your heart rate and blood pressure, there’s also an increased risk of heart attack. Get your doctor’s OK if you have heart disease, high cholesterol, are a smoker, or are sedentary, and those with any health concerns should hire someone to remove snow. Here are tips for staying safe:
- Dress warmly, in loose layers
- Protect your back by bending from the knees
- Move lighter loads of snow
- Push snow instead of lifting, where possible
- Stay hydrated (with water; avoid alcohol)
- Allow plenty of time to finish.
When snow and sleet are falling, the best bet is to stay home. But if you absolutely must drive during dangerous conditions, it’s critical to be prepared. Have a mechanic inspect your car in advance and make sure your battery, tire tread, windshield wipers, and fluid levels are up to snuff. It’s better to be safe than sorry… so keep a set of emergency supplies in your car such as snow shovel, ice scraper with brush, first–aid supplies, food and water, tow chain, tire chains, flashlight with extra batteries, cat litter, sand, or salt for traction, jumper cables, reflective warning devices, extra blankets, hats, and gloves, and matches.
When on the roads remember to:
- Clear snow and ice from all windows and lights
- Leave extra room for stopping
- Give snow plows and emergency vehicles plenty of room
- Know current road conditions
- Be wary of slippery areas such as bridges
If you feel your car losing control, consider this advice from the Indiana Department of Transportation: “Brake early, brake slowly, brake correctly, and never slam on the brakes. If you have anti–lock brakes, press the pedal down firmly and hold it. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, gently pump the pedal. Either way, give yourself plenty of room to stop.”
The true holiday spirit is love and kindness, not gifts and indulgence. While volunteering is a selfless act, those who annually donate 100–plus hours enjoy enhanced physical and mental health themselves — greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression, and less incidence of heart disease — reports the Corporation for National and Community Service. This time of year, many groups are looking for volunteers, including:
- Soldiers and their families
- Children’s organizations.
Pressed for time? You can always donate money, but confirm the charity; with so many groups seeking assistance, seasonal scam artists can take advantage of the kindhearted. To be confident your charity is on the up and up, the nonprofit group Charity Navigator recommends:
- Seeking organizations with capable, reasonably paid leaders
- Looking for financially strong charities
- Investigating their outcomes
- Checking for evidence of questionable ethical practices.
You probably think everyone washes their hands — it’s common sense, right? Surprisingly, just 75% of adult females and 58% of adult males wash their hands appropriately, according to a 2006 study cited by the Minnesota Department of Health. Perhaps not surprisingly, among grade schoolers just 33% of girls and 8% of boys soaped up. During cold and flu season it’s particularly important to help prevent the spread of germs. The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing your hands:
- Before and after preparing food or eating
- After changing diapers or cleaning a child who’s used the toilet
- Before and after tending to someone who’s sick
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After handling an animal or animal waste
- Before and after treating a cut or wound.
And don’t forget proper technique:
- Wet your hands with clean, very warm water and apply soap
- Rub your hands together and clean all surfaces
- Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds
- Rinse hands thoroughly under running water
- Dry your hands (use a paper towel when turning off a faucet and touching the door handle of public restrooms)
- If soap and water are unavailable, alcohol–based hand sanitizers will kill most germs.