9 Hacks to Help You Have a Healthier Holiday Season

Try these tactics to stop sickness before it starts.

<p>Iryna Veklich/Getty Images</p>

Iryna Veklich/Getty Images

If it feels like a lot of people in your social circle (and your office) are coughing and sniffling right now, you’re not imagining things. There are at least three different viruses circulating in big numbers—the flu, RSV (respiratory synctical virus), and new strains of COVID. And they've combined to create a "tripledemic" that's been crowding hospitals and doctor's offices since Thanskgiving.

But that doesn't mean you have to hibernate to stay healthy for the holidays. Try these smart and strategic changes that'll help you stay healthy

Don't rely on a single tactic to protect you

The more layers of protection you add to your wellness arsenal, the more you reduce your risk of catching something. "To protect yourself from getting sick, high-quality masks, good ventilation, and avoiding crowds are the best layers," says epidemiologist Maria Pyra, Ph.D., assistant professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. They'll protect you from flu, RSV, and COVID as well.

Make sure you're up to date on your vaccinations

If you haven’t gotten any vaccines this fall, now’s the time, Pyra says. "To keep yourself from ending up in the hospital, get the bivalent booster and flu shot."

Postpone your plans if someone's sick

Nobody wants to start the new year with a new virus—so if you or someone on your guest list has any respiratory symptoms (sore throat, cough, congestion, fever), stay home and reschedule once everyone's on the mend. “We should not encourage exposures to respiratory viruses when this can otherwise be avoided," says Scott Roberts, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Yale Medicine.

Bonus: It’ll give you something fun to look forward to during the January doldrums.

Keep your healthy habits up

As you're rushing around crossing everything off your holiday and work to-do lists, you may be shortcutting healthy habits, like getting a good night's sleep, eating immune-boosting foods, and exercising. Keeping your overall health on track can help ensure your immune system is running well, which could help you fight off respiratory viruses.


Bring back masks

High quality masks can protect you from every respiratory virus—including colds and flu. Pyra recommends ditching cloth or surgical masks for N95, KN95, or KF94 masks, which can be more protective, and wearing them any time you're in a crowd—especially if you're traveling or in large gatherings.

With flu and COVID cases both on the rise, many areas of the country—including big cities like Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle—are calling for indoor mask wearing now or after the holiday break. But they aren't the only areas where there are a lot of viruses going around. "If you look at the more accurate CDC map, transmission levels are incredibly high—and that's even when we are undercounting tests, as home tests are not counted," Pyra says. "Many areas are high—which means people should wear a high-quality mask."

Clean the air

Many respiratory viruses, including flu and COVID, are airborne. To minimize the chances that these viruses spread during your holiday get-togethers, use one of the latest tools to help you stay healthy—improving air flow. “Ventilation can really help,” Pyra says. “If people are hosting for the holidays, get a simple HEPA filter air purifier or make a Corsi-Rosenthal box (a homemade and highly effective HEPA filter made with a box fan, duct tape, and air filters), and crack open a few windows.” Running your exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom can also help improve air flow.

But don't worr y about getting fancy with your filtration. “Stick to simple ventilation—ionization or regular UV in most cases are just buzzwords and not actually cleaning your air,” Pyra says.


Keep surfaces clean

RSV usually causes cold-like symptoms in adults, but can become more serious in babies and immunocompromised or elderly adults. RSV is usually spread on surfaces rather than through the air—and flu can spread both through the air and through touching a contaminated surface, Roberts says. Frequent cleaning is a must to avoid spreading RSV and flu, especially on high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, faucet and toilet handles, and appliance knobs and handles.


Test ahead of a get-together

Rapid COVID tests, taken right before a get-together, can give you a snapshot of whether you're contagious at that moment. Having everyone at the gathering test before they arrive—and those who test positive stay home—can help reduce the risk that a virus spreads at your party. "Germs are not a great gift!" Pyra says.

Have a plan B

If all of your how-to-stay-healthy plans don't help, have a just-in-case plan in place for getting tested and accessing treatments if you do start feeling lousy. That's especially important if you’ll be out of town and away from your doctor and pharmacy. For both flu and COVID there are treatments available like Tamiflu or Paxlovid, but you’ll need to access them within the first few days of symptoms to be effective, Roberts says.

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