June 20, 2018
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Christmas tree fires, reindeer flies and other holiday health hazards

By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, thy leaves are so … dangerously combustible?

Amid all the holiday cheer, health and safety officials are warning Americans against a variety of seasonal hazards, including Christmas tree fires. Theirs may not be the cheeriest greetings of the season, but injuries and illness aren’t on anyone’s wish list.

Check out these holiday pitfalls and how to avoid them — then get back to having yourself a merry little Christmas.

Christmas tree fires

Christmas tree fires aren’t common, but tend to be deadlier than other house fires. On average, one out of every 66 reported home Christmas tree fires results in death, compared to one out of every 144 total house fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Live trees become more flammable as they dry out. The more needles that drop each day, the drier the tree has become. Place trees away from heat sources and out of the way of foot traffic and doorways. Monitor the water level daily. If you have an artificial tree, look for a label that says it’s fire resistant, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests.

Be sure not to keep dry trees in the home, garage or outside your house, the NFPA says.

Candle and decorative light fires

From 2006 to 2010, holiday lights and other decorative lighting were involved in an average of 160 home fires, nine civilian deaths, 13 related injuries, and $9 million in direct property damage annually, according to the NFPA.

Use only lights that have been tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

To lessen the risk of fires and keep equipment in good condition for next year, never pull a cord to unplug it from an electrical outlet, which can harm the wire and insulation. Inspect lights for damage and throw out light sets that have loose connections, broken sockets, or cracked or bare wires, the NFPA says. Wrap each set of lights in individual plastic bags or around a piece of cardboard. Store electrical decorations in a dry place away from children and pets.

Keep burning candles within sight on a stable, heat-resistant surface away from items that can catch fire and where kids and pets can’t knock them over, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Always extinguish candles before leaving the room.

Decorating injuries

Since 2009, the estimated number of holiday decoration-related injuries has risen at a rate of 1,000 per year — from 12,000 in 2009 to 14,000 in 2011, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Parents with small children are advised keep sharp, fragile decorations away from children and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them. When hanging or taking down lights, avoid a fall by placing your ladder on firm ground away from power lines and electrical equipment. Use a ladder that extends at least three feet over the roofline or working surface.

Food-related illnesses

Could trouble lurk in that Christmas ham? Avoid contaminated food and drinks this season by following some tips from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wash hands with warm water and soap before and after handling food and clean food preparation surfaces such as cutting boards and countertops after preparing each dish. Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry and seafood away from foods that won’t be cooked. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to an internal temperature high enough to kill bacteria. For eggnog and other recipes that call for raw eggs, use pasteurized eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites. Refrigerate foods quickly to prevent harmful bacteria that grows rapidly at room temperature.

Use leftovers within three to four days.

Reindeer flies

OK, so this particular holiday pitfall isn’t exactly common, but it’s wacky. According to a Dec. 20 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Rudolph might be harboring some nasty fly larvae that can cause skin problems and rare eye infections. A bumblebee-like fly called Hypoderma tarandi that’s common in subarctic regions attaches its eggs to the hair of reindeer, according to the study by a Swedish researcher. When the larvae hatch, they penetrate the skin, causing large swellings and in rare cases, infections that developed in children’s eyes.

Good thing Comet and Cupid stay up on the roof.

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