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Holiday injuries

Joseph Liewer, an emergency department physician at Mercy Medical Center, talks about common holiday-related injuries during an interview at the Sioux City hospital's trauma emergency room. In the foreground are common medical items that could prove helpful to have in the home.

SIOUX CITY | The holiday season can be a dangerous time.

During November and December 2015, there were six fatalities and an estimated 14,000 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms nationwide, due to holiday decorating alone, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In the days and weeks leading up to and after Christmas, broken bones and bruises from falls on ice, cuts sustained while washing glasses and burns suffered while roasting the holiday ham comprise the brunt of mishaps treated by emergency room physicians like Joseph Liewer at Mercy Medical Center -- Sioux City.

When families gather together to prepare food, Liewer said accidents happen and viruses spread. He gave the following tips to prevent a mishap and respond to injuries and illnesses when they happen.

CONDITION: Liewer said just the simple act of family members gathering together can spread viruses, including influenza, which can hit the elderly, the very young and people with compromised immune systems particularly hard.

Holiday injuries

Joseph Liewer, an emergency department physician at Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City, displays a reusable bag that can be filled with ice to apply cold to an bruise, sprain or fracture.

SYMPTOMS: This respiratory infection produces a cough, severe body aches, high fever and chills. Liewer said it's also possible that patients might experience nausea and vomiting. "Generally, people aren't gonna know that they have influenza," he said. "They're just going to feel terrible."

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: Whether a person should seek out medical care for influenza, Liewer said will depend on the severity of their symptoms, their age and any other chronic medical conditions they may have. If someone is having severe symptoms, such as high fever, vomiting, shortness of breath and severe persistent cough, or if they're getting dehydrated, Liewer recommends seeing a doctor.

Holiday injuries

Joseph Liewer, an emergency department physician at Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City, talks about common holiday-related injuries during an interview at the hospital.

PREVENTION: Practice good hand washing and get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says studies show the influenza vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by 50 to 60 percent among the overall population. Strains of the influenza virus change a little each year. The vaccine always includes three viruses: two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus. "Having an influenza vaccine is helpful," Liewer said. "It's not going to guarantee that you're not going to get infected with influenza, but it would most likely decrease the severity of the symptoms that you have."

CONDITION: Slipping on icy stoops, steps, sidewalks and driveways, Liewer said, often brings patients to the ER with bruises, sprains and/or fractures. "It might rain or sleet throughout the night. You don't know that happened and walk outside and slip on the front stoop," Liewer said.

SYMPTOMS: Pain, swelling, bruising and inability to place weight on the limb. "If you can't walk because of the pain, that would indicate it's more severe -- potentially a fracture," Liewer said.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: Bruises and sprains can be treated with ice, according to Liewer, who said heating the injured area should be avoid during the first 26 hours. Over-the-counter medications, such as Aleve or ibuprofen can be used to treat pain and inflammation. "You can use an ACE wrap to help support the area that's injured and protect it from being bumped or stabilize it a little bit." Injuries that indicate joint deformity and limit mobility, Liewer said should be evaluated by a physician.

PREVENTION: "Be aware of your environment. Be aware of the weather conditions," Liewer said.

CONDITION: Be sure to use one cutting board for fresh produce and bread and a separate one for raw meat to prevent food-borne illness.

SYMPTOMS: Signs of foodborne illness include severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms generally occur 24 to 48 hours later, but Staphylococcus aureus -- a toxin-producing bacteria -- can make a person sick within in an hour of exposure. "Usually folks will get fairly abrupt onset," Liewer said. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: If you have very mild symptoms and are able to consume clear liquids without vomiting, Liewer said you might be able to overcome food-borne illness on your own with antacids or Pepto-Bismol. "If somebody's going to get food poisoning, usually they get some pretty significant symptoms that they want to get checked out for and treated at the hospital."

PREVENTION: Wash knives, cutting boards, food preparation surfaces and your hands with soap and hot water after contact with raw meat. Keep foods at safe temperatures. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, leftovers must be put in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerated at 40 degrees F or below within two hours.

CONDITION: Liewer said people have "a lot of irons in the fire" when preparing a holiday feast for family and friends. Managing several dishes as one time, coupled with more bodies in the kitchen than usual, sometimes leads to stove or oven burns

SYMPTOMS: Skin that is red, painful and or blistered.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: If the wound is blistered and very painful, Liewer recommends being evaluated by a professional. If blistering isn't present, he said the burn can be managed at home. Wash the wound with soap and water, apply antibiotic medication and wrap it in a bandage. Take Tylenol or ibuprofen for pain. 

PREVENTION: "Take your time and know what you're doing," Liewer said.

CONDITION: Liewer said patients might cut themselves on a knife while preparing food or placing their hand inside a glass to clean it out. "They'll put a little too much pressure on the inside of the glass and it will break," he said. "I've seen multiple people over the years that have a laceration of their hands related to that."

SYMPTOMS: Open skin that looks like a cut, tear or gash. Lacerations in certain areas of the body may be very painful and bleed profusely.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: If you have a cut that's fairly deep over an area of the body that might include tendons and joints, Liewer recommends seeking medical attention. "Frequently people will show up here because they have a laceration and they're unable to get the bleeding stopped," he said. "If there are injuries that are over an area of hand that every time you move the hand, the wound might come open, that's an issue that you're going to want to be seen." If the wound is minor, take the same steps that you would to treat a burn at home to avoid infection.

PREVENTION: Cut away from your body when using a knife. Avoid dull knives. Use non-slip cutting boards. "Be aware of the dangers associated with knives or being careful of what's in the sink," Liewer said.

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Health and Lifestyles reporter

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