GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)– Thanksgiving day is officially one week away!

As many plan to gather with loved ones, health experts recommend a bit of extra vigilance to protect yourself and those close to you.

In this week’s “Ask the Expert”, in partnership with Bon Secours St. Francis. we spoke with a physician assistant about staying healthy this holiday season.

The holiday season is a joyous time to reconnect with family and loved ones, but it also brings unique health and safety risks.

Physician Assistant Casey Roche says some common illnesses are spread this time of year.

“Definitely the respiratory viruses that include flu A and B, COVID, RSV. We also see a lot of strep throat and some stomach bugs,” said Roche.

Roche says the number one way to prevent the spread of these illnesses is handwashing.

She says, “Hand sanitizer is really tempting as a quick fix, but the best thing to do is warm water and soap for 20 seconds at a time.”

Here are some other good tips…

“If you do sneeze or cough, sneeze or cough into your elbow and not into your hands and still wash your hands afterward. And, clean really highly trafficked areas in your home and common objects that you touch such as door handles frequently.”

Casey Roche, Physician Assistant, Bon Secours St. Francis

Whether you plan to reach your loved ones by plane, train, or automobile, Roche says travel increases your risk of getting sick.

She says “First of all, if you’re traveling through an airport or another crowded space, that’s just that many more exposures to other viruses that other travelers might be carrying. Another reason is that you get dehydrated, you get stressed, you’re out of your normal routine, and that lowers your immune system which makes you more susceptible. So again, going back to hand washing, hand washing is you know the number one way to prevent it. The other one is to really hydrate, to focus on your health and well-being, and to avoid travel if you’re sick.”

Roche recommends getting preventative vaccines for added protection.

She says “COVID vaccines and flu vaccines for everybody”.

“If you’re over 60 years old, please talk to your primary care provider about the RSV vaccine.”

Casey Roche, Physician Assistant, Bon Secours St. Francis

Roche says food safety is also important to keep you from getting sick during the holidays. She says to make sure cold things are kept cold, hot things are kept hot, and do not leave perishable items out for more than two hours at a time.

To submit a health topic for our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, click here.