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Awareness of holiday health hazards help make most of the season

It’s all fun and festive until dad throws his back out removing the dead Christmas tree that caught fire when the cat knocked over the lit candle that someone forgot to blow out.

While falling from ladders and stepping on broken holiday ornaments make for funny movie moments, when they happen in real life, it’s anything but funny.

According to the U.S. Product Safety Commission, there were 15,000 injuries last year involving holiday decorating seen in emergency departments nationwide during November and December. In addition to decorating accidents, other common problems sending people to the emergency room include allergic reactions to skyrocketing mold counts inside the home from Christmas trees to children choking on pieces of gift wrap or toy packaging, the commission said.

Dr. Andrew Diller of Brookville Family Care said steps to a safer holiday need to take place from the kitchen — where food is prepared for large family feasts — to living rooms where safety is found in the details of burning candles, small plastic toys and live Christmas trees.

“The first thing that people need to think about is how they handle and prepare the food for their holiday gatherings,” said Diller, a family physician with Premier HealthNet. “The important things to remember in order to prevent food-borne illnesses are to wash your hands before preparing foods, to wash surfaces often to avoid cross contamination of foods like raw meat, eggs and fresh vegetables, and to prepare it at the right cooking temperature.”

Safety goes beyond a food’s preparation — diving into the creamy crab dip that’s been sitting on the serving table for three hours can lead to digestive issues later. As a rule of thumb, perishable foods such as anything made with dairy products should never be left outside of the refrigerator for more than two hours. This often can be overlooked at large gatherings where individuals become distracted and lose track of time. As a result, Diller recommends designating a person to monitor food and keep track of what time it should be placed back into the refrigerator. It’s a simple strategy that could make a significant difference in an individual’s holiday season.

A studied released by the CDC in 2011, estimated that each year roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases. The most common pathogen leading to food borne illnesses is the norovirus — a very contagious virus that can infect anyone. Individuals can get the virus from an infected person, from contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces. Symptoms of the virus include inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which leads to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.

Diller said there are several things parents should keep in mind when it comes to the safety of their children this holiday season. Decorations can often include live plants or flowers — such as mistletoe, holly berries, Jerusalem cherry and amaryllis. Children should be taught to never put these plants in their mouths as they can often cause severe stomach problems, according to the National Safety Council. These plants can also be a health hazard for pets that often find them irresistible to play with and/or eat.

Parents should be mindful of loose gift wrap, batteries and small pieces from a toy’s packaging as each can pose a choking hazard to children all the way up to the age of six, Diller said. Speaking of packaging, as any parent knows, freeing a toy from the packaging it comes in can be daunting. As a result, thousands of people end up in the emergency room due to wounds from trying to cut, pry or stab open gifts. Thankfully, many retailers such as Best Buy, Amazon and Sony are moving toward easier-to-open packaging; in the meantime, when faced with the “clamshell” hard plastic packaging, exercise extreme care and patience.

Finally, adults should also be wise when it comes to the placement of alcoholic beverages. Always discard partial glasses of alcoholic drinks and never leave a drink unattended or place it on a level at which a younger child can reach it.

There is much time and care that goes into choosing the right gift for others during the holiday season, but perhaps the best thing individuals can offer is the extra time it takes to ensure those around them have a safe and healthy holiday season.

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