What can be the most joyous and indeed, the most wonderful time of year, can also pose some extra health hazards – and we’re not just talking about the Griswold’s fuse-blowing, electrifying Christmas light extravaganza. From Christmas tree fires to travel stress and even the dangers of too much holiday party snacking, here are some major holiday health hazards to keep in mind and to try and avoid this coming season.
From planning the trip, to packing the bags – and then comes the act of travel itself. Health hazards abound whether it’s a road trip to see family or a long haul flight, you are putting your health at risk of everything from travel sickness, to germs and bacteria on public modes of transit, and even jet lag.
On an airplane, for example, research conducted earlier this year by Auburn University shows that MRSA infection can survive for up to 7 days on the surfaces that surround your plane seat, compared to just four days that it survives on a toilet flusher. Further to that, the research also showed that the bacteria can last up to 6 days on the armrest and up to 5 days on the plastic tray table that you eat off of.
If you’re travelling to different time zones, jet lag can be a major health factor in travelling. Jet lag, a temporary sleep disorder, is caused when your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythms are out of sync. Health effects of jet lag can include daytime fatigue, difficulty staying alert and even gastrointestinal problems.
During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the number of trips in the U.S. increases by 23%, according to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) of the Department of Transportation. Time spent on the road also increases for Christmas and New Year’s trips with people driving 275 miles on average compared with a national average of 261 miles during the rest of the year. That’s a whole lot bigger of an opportunity to leave yourself open to the health hazards of holiday traveling.
Whether it’s stoking up the fireplace, turning up the cook top or lighting one too many scented candles, everything from cooking to decorative touches has its hazards. This is especially relevant around the holidays. The number of incidences of fires caused by cooking, heating and open flame all increase during the winter holiday period, according to the United States Fire Administration (USFA.)
Don’t forget the old Christmas tree too – it was estimated that from 2007-2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 230 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Data from the NFPA also shows that 30 percent of all home fires and 38 percent of home fire deaths occur during the months of December, January, and February.
Other sources of holiday season fires included Christmas tree fires started by candles (7 percent,) decorative lights (12 percent,) and electrical malfunctions (which were involved in just over one third of Christmas tree fires.) Holiday decoration and Christmas tree fires result in twice the injuries ad five times the fatalities per fire as the average winter holiday, according to reports from the United States Fire Administration (USFA.)
Let’s be honest, we all hope beyond hope that the cold and flu keep themselves right out of our holiday plans. No one wants to be the one sniffling over the turkey or opening presents with a raging fever – or even worse, a head cold tagging along on a holiday away you’ve planned for all year.
It’s prime time for seasonal flu around the holidays each year and while when it hits can vary from year to year, the flu season usually peaks right in the middle of the holiday season, between December and February, according to the CDC, although it can stretch all the way from October through to May.
Also, as with many other holidays, food making and food intaking also increases. There are around 76 million cases of food poisoning and food related illness in the US each year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC,) with the number hospitalizations from such illnesses reaching 325,000. Between snack tables, 7-course meals and a pile of leftovers, food safety is an important hazard to keep in mind all the way from the prepping of ingredients, the cleaning of cooktops and surfaces, through to the storing of foods.
Sources: CDC, USFA, NFPA, RITA
Images Sources: Elf; National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Planes, Trains and Automobiles