The holidays are typically a time for being with family members and for sharing. Sometimes, though, this results in unhealthy sharing of communicable diseases like the flu. Communicable diseases are those that are infectious and that can be passed from person to person. San Juan Basin Public Health’s  (SJBPH) Communicable Disease Program works to keep these communicable diseases from spreading. Through education of community members and investigations into disease incidents and outbreaks, SJBPH  tracks, controls and works to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases, zoonotic, vector-borne, air-borne, water-borne and food-borne illnesses, and other diseases that can be shared.

Depending on the disease, the most common ways diseases are spread are through breathing contaminated air (such as after someone has coughed or sneezed without covering their mouth and nose), touching contaminated surfaces, and coming in contact with bodily fluids.

We are currently at the start of flu season, with flu activity typically increasing around this time of year and peaking between December and February. There are precautions anyone can take to avoid getting (and giving) the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that flu vaccinations have been shown to prevent flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and hospitalizations. They can also be life-saving for children.

Not everyone can get the vaccine for the flu, though, and there are many other communicable diseases that do not have a vaccine or other preventative treatment. So how do we keep these diseases from ruining our vacations, holidays, and family time? There are some easy precautions that can be taken to avoid oversharing with others to ensure a healthy holiday season.

  • Try to avoid getting too close to sick people. If they are coughing or sneezing, keep your distance.
  • If you do get sick, avoid contact with other people. If you have a fever, stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands often, but especially after contact with an ill person, after touching public surfaces (like handrails or doorknobs), after coughing or sneezing in your hand, or before you eat. If you are not near soap and water, and your hands are not visibly dirty, use an alcohol-based hand rub (be sure to check the directions for use).
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs. Many germs can live a long time on non-porous surfaces, so clean often if you or a member of your household are sick.
  • Sometimes these diseases start in uncooked foods, so be sure to cook your meats thoroughly and avoid cross-contamination (such as putting fully cooked meat on an unwashed plate that held raw meat, or cutting vegetables for a salad on a board that just held raw meat).

There are some communicable diseases that have more stringent protective measures. If you are concerned about a particular communicable disease, contact SJBPH for more guidance.

This winter, SJBPH wants you to share happy memories with family and friends, not share communicable diseases. For more information visihttps://sjbpublichealth.org/communicabledisease/ or contact Rosalind Penny, MPH, PhD at (970) 335-2001 or rpenney@sjbpublichealth.org.