Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Don't Shake & Eat: A Holiday Health Guide to Save $500 & Up

A few Decembers ago, medical costs sliced (at least) $500 from our budget, excluding lost wages. To avoid seasonal germs, I have a long list of tips for holiday parties, public events and travel.

The Back Story: Several Decembers ago, three out of the five members of my family became very ill. Walking pneumonia/bronchitis and other ailments struck our home. One of my kids missed a month of school and was almost hospitalized. It was during that period when SARs was big in the news and my mom suspected that we may have had a taste of that bug.

In my case, an all-night marathon of work clearly weakened my immune system. But my sons and I became ill after going to the movies. I think we must have picked up germs from the handrail or other contact with a contaminated surface. I was always a big hand washer, but I must have fallen down on the job during that movie visit. Going forward, I've been even stricter about washing hands. Here are my rules:

1. Don't eat while shaking hands: Either socialize or eat. But don't eat after you've shaken hands with anyone. Here are the options at cocktail parties, holiday gatherings and other events: 1) Network & starve or 2) Wash hands, eat & be a hermit. Don't try to do both options at the same time. But if you must eat while networking: Feed yourself with the (clean) hand that no one has touched.

2. Don't eat after touching money: When buying snacks at a mall or movie, don't touch your food until you've washed your hands, especially if you've handled money. And never, never accept food from a vendor who touches money and then touches the (unwrapped) food that you will eat.
3. Don't touch any surface in a public restroom: Take a paper towel to touch door handles, faucet handles, dryers, etc.

4. Use handle railings with care. If possible, I try to avoid holding onto the handrails on stairs and escalators in stores, malls and movie theaters. If I worry about falling, I lean on the railing with an elbow or I'll use a tissue as a barrier.

Likewise, these health guidelines from the Dec. 24 issue of First for Women magazine are great, especially for the high-contact holiday season.

1. Don't use other people's cell phones.
2. Avoid makeup testers at stores ("germ hot spots")

3. Don't use public pens at banks, stores or the Post Office. Nearly 3,000 people may hit the checkout counter during a typical shopping day in major stores.

4. Clip your nails. The list of potential germs under long nails sounds really awful, according to one study cited in the magazine article.

5. Zip then flush in public toilets. I don't know how to say this politely, but get fully clothed before flushing in public bathrooms. Hint: Beware of spraying toilets.

6. Avoid putting personal possessions on public bathroom sinks. I try to avoid public surfaces altogether.

7. Carry handwipes.

8. DIY cleaning service: Use wipes on airline trays, even before you put down your laptop. Even before you touch the little "release knob." Consider this factoid: "Research presented at this year's meeting of the American Society for Microbiology found that 60 percent of airplane tray tables harbored the antibiotic-resistant superbug MRSA."--Dec. 24 issue of First for Women

9. Avoid the mini-fridge in your hotel room. Not only are the prices expensive, but so many people may have touched that mini-fridge and handled the food/beverage items.
Recent Posts:

5 Reasons Why I Have a Crush on My Parents' Retirement Magazines
What to Do After Losing a Job or Before the Pink Slip Arrives
Holiday Family Activities & More at Carnival of Family Life


Analisa said...

Thank you - the MRSA stat is especially scary. I carry Purell hand wipes but often forget to use them.

One more - always always use the sanitizing wipes the grocery stores make available to wipe off the cart handles!

Frugal Duchess said...


Shopping Carts! That's a good reminder.
Thanks so much.
Take Care,

Marcus Aurelius said...

Sorry Sharon,

This blog seems howard-hughesy to me.

Trimming the nails and getting one's self back in order prior to flushing make sense but everything else all seems impractical to me (uhh perhaps not using another's cell phone, but who usually does is it anyway, just about everyone has their own cellphone anyway).

Frequent handwashing covers most of your points. I am suspicious the so called sanitizers out there are probably more harmful to health. They seem to give people a sense of security and my guess is anything strong enough to be really helpful may be borderline or out and out toxic. I frequently hear doctors and microbiologists complain anti-microbial soap & sanitizers actually help create resistant microbes.

For example, hand sanitizers do not cut it as far as our health department and food handling goes. You must have soap, water, and disposable towels accessible to the food workers hand sanitizers do not substitute.

Frugal Duchess said...

Marcus, Marcus:

Have you seen the show Monk? I'm not quite that bad, but I can relate to some of his germ probias.

Seriously, you are so right about the handwashing and your comments about the hand-sanitizers are true:
They're not the end-all-be-all.

I am a handwasher: I believe in soap and water. And yes, yes, yes: those sanitizers can give you a false sense of security.

But about eating and shaking: I can't tell you how many times, I've seen people cough, sneeze, etc and then reach out.

Thank so much for your comments.
I appreciate your thoughts very much. You add a lot.
Take Care,