6 easy ways to avoid germs this holiday season

By Andy Stergachis, PhD, BPharm Dec 15, 2023 • 3 min

Along with tidings and joy, the holiday season also means more social gatherings with family, friends and neighbors. Common interactions can allow germs to spread quickly. These germs can lead to illnesses, such as colds, flu, foodborne illnesses and skin infections. Gatherings with family and friends can also increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. So how can you protect yourself from germs that can make you sick?

Stay safe at work

If you are feeling sick, be sure to stay home from work, especially if you are experiencing a fever. In the workplace, wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer. Always cover your coughs and sneezes, and keep tissues on hand for when you need them.

Get immunized

One of the best ways to help stay healthy this season is to get fully vaccinated for seasonal illnesses. If you'll be spending time with a baby over the holidays, getting the Tdap vaccine is especially important. The Tdap vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Make sure your whole family is up to date with the recommended vaccinations.

Travel healthy

Traveling over the holidays in planes, trains, cars or buses can put you in cramped environments with others. Try to avoid being in the pathway of a sneeze or cough by creating distance between you and the source. Germs can also live on trays, seats and other surfaces. Use hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes to clean surfaces, and disinfect your hands.

Be a smart shopper

Gift-giving begins with gift shopping. When shopping in crowded shopping centers, be sure to practice healthy habits. Bacteria can live on bathroom sinks and faucets after just one person uses the toilet and touches the counter. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap, and use a paper towel when you touch the faucet and restroom door. Try to limit touching surfaces used by others, like handrails, and carry disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer with you.

Protect yourself at the gym

The gym is a great place to go to keep in shape this time of year. However, transmission of germs often occurs in gyms and can increase the spread of flu or COVID-19. Germs at the gym can also cause skin infections, such as athlete's foot and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Washing your hands often and wiping down gym equipment with a disinfectant before and after use can help prevent the spread of germs.

Gather the family, not the germs

You're not germ-free once you get to your destination. If a friend or relative has a cold or flu, avoid that hug, handshake or kiss, and don't share food from your holiday plate. Be extra careful when handling and preparing food. Simple steps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include:

  • Don't cross-contaminate one food with another. Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your grocery cart, grocery bags and in your refrigerator. Be sure to use plastic bags or containers in the meat and produce sections of the supermarket.
  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a different one for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously touched raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based wipe or hand sanitizer.

While you can't avoid every germ this time of year, keep these tips in mind to help us all have a happier and healthier holiday season.

Clinically reviewed and updated December 2023.

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