Hand Sanitizer Santa
Even visiting Santa takes on a whole new twist during a pandemic…hand sanitizers, more frequent uniform changes and new health practices are showing up at the mall this season.


Many of America’s Santas want to be given priority for the vaccine and not just because of those germy kids. There is the element of that not-so-little round belly. Research has suggested obesity could be a risk factor – even for Santa!

The group known as the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas (I am not kidding here – http://www.aorbsinc.com) recently featured a seminar on H1N1. The group also urged its members to use hand sanitizer and take vitamins to boost their immune systems.

The president of the organization said he also hopes parents will keep sick kids away. “We don’t want any child to go without seeing Santa, but it’s not worth bringing your child to the mall, infecting the Santa and infecting the other children,” Nicholas Trolli said. He recalled a boy who informed him last year that he had a fever and had stayed home from school. But, the child said, his mother thought it was a good day to visit Santa.

Ernest Berger, president of another group called Santa America (http://www.santa-america.org) has asked an Alabama congressman last week to designate Santas a priority group for the swine flu vaccine, like health care workers or caregivers for infants. A spokesman for Republican Rep. Jo Bonner confirmed Berger’s request and said staff members were looking into it.

Berger hopes Santas will use hand sanitizers and encourage children to do the same, without turning the experience into a hygiene lecture. “It’s a delicate balance here. This is not an exercise in health care. This is visiting Santa,” he said.

Berger estimates that about two-thirds of all American Santas are overweight, and about a third are morbidly obese. That raises health concerns because some research has suggested obesity could be a risk factor for severe swine flu. A high proportion of those who have gotten severely ill from swine flu have been obese or extremely obese. But health officials also have said that might be due to heavy people tending to have asthma and other conditions that make them more susceptible.

The 200 or so Santas who volunteer to visit sick or grieving children through Santa America will be washing their suits daily instead of weekly and will not be wearing gloves this year so they can wash their hands frequently, Berger said. Santa John Scheuch said he might suggest to parents that they come back another time if a child is visibly ill.

But it is not just sitting on Santa’s lap that can be dangerous it is all of those kids standing in line in the strollers, sniffling and coughing and hacking. … In the meantime, they’re interacting with other kids in line.  Scheuch, executive director of Santa America, has taken some personal precautions. “I’ve had my H1N1. I’ve had my seasonal flu shot. This is my year for my pneumonia booster,” he said. “I don’t know what else I can do except encapsulate myself in plastic.”

A new feature around many mall Santa Claus areas are hand-sanitizing stations just outside the picket fence. Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom, New Hampshire’s deputy state epidemiologist, said going gloveless and using gel between each child would be the best option. She cautioned that viruses can live on unwashed hands for two to eight hours. “If your hand was warm and moist, it could live longer,” she said. “It depends on whether you have a glob of mucus on your hand where it’s going to live happily versus a tiny speck. It’s kind of disgusting, but it would depend on what was on your hand.”



Two pet dogs were confirmed to have H1N1 in China.  The animals were diagnosed in Beijing and, while it is possible for pets to transfer viruses to their owners, scientists said there is no evidence to suggest pets are already spreading the illness.

The virus found in dogs in Beijing was a 99-percent match for the flu currently infecting humans, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, which announced the canine infection on Saturday but did not elaborate on the breed.