Don’t Let Sepsis Ruin Your Holiday Season

December 9, 2021

End-of-year holidays bring joy to many. Whether we meet up with family and friends or we spend some quiet time alone, we can’t forget that the holiday season is also one that can result in accidents, illnesses, and infections that can lead to sepsis. Learn about five illnesses and accidents that can affect people during the holidays, and how to prevent them.

1- Influenza (Flu)

Flu season starts in October in the United States, with influenza cases increasing until its peak from December to February. This is when people spend more time indoors. During the holidays, people shop, travel, and gather more frequently, raising the risk of spreading the virus.

This respiratory viral infection can cause secondary infections, like pneumonia, and can trigger sepsis. Every year, a different strain of influenza circulates around the globe. For this reason, researchers develop new annual flu vaccines to prevent serious flu outbreaks. The best way to prevent catching the flu, which can lead to sepsis, during the holiday season is by getting vaccinated and using basic hygiene practices, like frequent hand washing and staying away from others who are ill. If you are ill, you keep the virus from spreading by isolating yourself. Don’t forget about the important role of masks in preventing infections. You can also wear masks during flu season to prevent the virus spread.

2- Food Poisoning

As families and friends gather for meals, food can be prime for contamination if it is not handled properly. Food poisoning at this time of year is mostly due to bacteria like norovirus, salmonella, and staphylococcus aureus. But people can also become sick from E. Coli, which can cause very serious illness.

Most people who get food poisoning become ill, but recover quickly. However, older adults, young children, those who are pregnant, and anyone with a weakened immune system can become very ill. Their condition can quickly become life-threatening.

To reduce the risk of food poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some tips:

  • Wash your hands before handling food, and after as well.
  • Ensure high-risk foods don’t touch other foods. Chicken, meat, and eggs should be kept separate from others.
  • Cook hot foods thoroughly and ensure they stay hot.
  • Thaw turkeys safely, in the fridge or in water you change every 30 minutes – not on the counter.
  • Keep cold food cold.
  • Put left overs in the fridge or freezer as quickly as possible after meals.
  • Avoid eating food (including batter and dough) that contains raw eggs.

3- Bone Fractures

During the holidays, emergency room doctors see lots of fractures (broken bones). While a broken bone itself isn’t an infection risk, if the bone breaks through the skin – called a compound or open fracture – bacteria can enter and cause an infection, which can lead to sepsis. Many holiday accidents are the result of people using ladders or chairs to decorate, but depending on where you live, more people may be outside enjoying winter sports, like skiing and skating. Even walking outside and slipping on the ice can result in a nasty break.

Reduce your risk of a bone fracture by:

  • Using a safe, well secured ladder instead of a chair or stool to reach high up. Do not stretch, which can put the ladder off balance. If you must go on the roof, have a spotter holding the ladder.
  • Using proper protective equipment when doing winter sports.
  • Not drinking alcohol before climbing anything or enjoying yourself outside.
  • Wearing crampons on your shoes or boots to prevent slips on the ice.
  • Being extra cautious when walking through parking lots, particularly this time of year. People pulling in and out of parking spots may be in a hurry and not see you.

4- Burns

Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth – and too many people in the kitchen can cause burns. Whether it is because of distracted cooking or bumping into others, burns are a very real risk during the holidays. Burns can also be caused by candles or more serious house fires.

Most burns are first degree burns, painful but not serious. But second degree burns, which cause blisters and breaks in the skin, can allow bacteria to enter the body and cause an infection. These must be treated by a healthcare professional. Third degree burns are the most serious and have the highest infection and sepsis risk.

Burns on the face could cause burns inside the airway. These types of injuries can be caused by bursts of steam from a hot pot or the flames from a barbecue as you light the fire.

Here are a few tips to reduce your risk of burns, and possibly sepsis, during the holiday season:

  • Ensure an adult is always present and vigilant where there are burning candles and open flames.
  • Only allow essential people in the kitchen while you are cooking.
  • Turn pot handles so they don’t hang over the edge of the stove.
  • Keep all flammable items, like dishcloths and oven mitts, away from the stove and any heating elements.
  • Keep all heat generating appliances, like kettles, as far from the edge of the counter as possible.
  • Observe all safety precautions when lighting a barbecue or open fire.

5- Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when cold temperatures cause the skin and tissues to freeze. The damage to the skin is very similar to burns. Children are at higher risk of frostbite, not only because they lose heat from their skin faster than adults, but they also may not pay attention to the signs and stay outside longer than they should. If the skin breaks, there is another possible route for infection.

You can prevent frostbite by:

  • Keeping outside time to a minimum when it is very cold.
  • Wearing a hat, scarf, and mittens. Mittens generally keep your fingers warmer than gloves.
  • Dressing in layers, with the innermost layers wicking moisture away from the skin. Cotton fabrics and thermal underwear are the best for this.
  • Checking on your children regularly for signs of frostbite if they are playing outside.
  • Remove wet clothing, including gloves, as soon as they are wet.

So many people enjoy celebrating the holidays and playing outside in the winter weather. Staying safe helps keep holidays sepsis-free.

You can learn more about various conditions and issues related to sepsis by visiting the Sepsis and… library.

If you or someone you love does become ill over the holidays, watch for signs of sepsis: