How to Handle Illness Around the Holidays

By the bioMérieux Connection Editors

Anna Lopez knows what it’s like when a loved one becomes seriously ill around the holidays.  Last December, Anna and her fiancé, Todd, both got sick with a cold. Anna recovered; however, Todd got progressively worse, and he was eventually  admitted to the hospital. He ended up spending five days in the hospital fighting sepsis and the underlying infection. It was a close call.

“It was something that we had to grasp going through the holidays, that he would have to take it easy and not exert himself physically too much,” said Lopez. “Just knowing that he was going to have to take this time to recover, you’re never really anticipating or expecting it.”

Travel time, family gatherings, and holiday parties create a perfect storm for exposure to germs and for getting sick. Some of us will even find ourselves coming down with an illness just as we take off work for the holidays, an experience that Dutch psychologist Dr. Ad Vingerhoets has dubbed, “leisure sickness.” However we end up getting sick, it puts a damper on holiday plans and has the potential to develop into a more serious illness.  So, what can you do to help prevent illness around the holidays?

Help Prevent Holiday Illness

  1. Wash your hands. You can help yourself and your loved ones stay healthy by washing your hands often with soap and warm water.
  2. Get your flu shot. If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, you should. An annual flu shot is the best way to help protect against flu.
  3. Drink plenty of water. Getting enough water every day is important for flushing waste from the body and making nutrients accessible.
  4. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep plays an important role in good health and well-being. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your physical and mental health.
  5. Manage your stress. The final prevention tip isn’t as easy to follow, but stress is one of the main reasons people get sick over the holidays.

When to See a Doctor

If you happen to feel under the weather this holiday season, know when it’s time to visit a doctor. The following symptoms indicate you should talk to your healthcare provider:

  • Having a high fever (103°F or above) or a fever that lasts more than three days
  • Extreme difficulty swallowing
  • Having a severe cough that lingers for more than two weeks
  • Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea that lasts for more than three days

Sometimes things can go from bad to worse very quickly, just as they did for Todd. The following symptoms are signs of a medical emergency:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse
  • Not urinating
  • Severe weakness or unsteadiness

Finally, if you just aren’t getting better with time, consult with your doctor. Complications from the flu and other illnesses can happen to anyone.

Stay healthy this holiday season. Keep in mind the best practices for preventing illness and don’t let the celebration derail you from making health-conscious choices. If you get sick, watch out for the emergency warning signs and when in doubt, talk with your doctor.


This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of bioMérieux, Inc.

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