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Most people picture an idyllic Christmas morning scene: sipping eggnog around the decorated tree while opening gifts. Not to be too bah humbug about it, but what if you get sick from that eggnog? Or what if the tree ignites? To help you dodge these and other hazards of the season, we've compiled some helpful tips.

Christmas tree fire

How often does it happen? Christmas trees account for about 200 fires annually, resulting in six deaths, 25 injuries and more than $6 million in property damage, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Prevention: Make a fresh cut to remove at least half an inch of wood from the base of the trunk, and place the tree in water. Keep it away from heat sources, do not leave lights on unattended, and discard the tree promptly after the holidays when it has become dry and easier to ignite.

Drunken driving

How often does it happen? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 38 percent of all traffic fatalities during the 2007 Christmas period and 41 percent during the 2007-08 New Year's Day period involved a drunken driver (compared with 32 percent during the rest of the year). This year could be especially risky because Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Fridays, and drunken-driving fatalities typically rise on weekends.

Prevention: If you're going to drink, don't drive. Plan ahead to have a designated driver, call a cab or ride public transit. If you do over-imbibe, sleep it off on your host's sofa

Holiday plant poisoning

How often does it happen? In 2008, American poison control centers received 426 calls regarding exposure to American and English holly, 132 calls about mistletoe and 1,174 for poinsettias. None of these cases resulted in death, but effects of ingestion can include vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.

Prevention: Keep these plants out of reach of children and pets. Call the National Poison Control Center toll-free at 1-800-222-1222 if you suspect ingestion.

Package-opening injury

How often does it happen? Hard plastic "clamshell" casings, plastic bindings and wire ties send many revelers reaching for box cutters or knives on Christmas morning. About 6,000 Americans end up in the emergency room each year because of packaging-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Prevention: If you find yourself confronted with an apparently impenetrable wrapper, take a deep breath. Then remember these tips from the Pennsylvania Medical Society: Avoid opening difficult packages in a crowded area, do not use your legs to keep the product stable and use blunt-tipped scissors.

Eggnog salmonella

How often does it happen? There are no specific eggnog-related data, but the CDC estimates that one in 50 consumers could be exposed to a contaminated egg each year. If that egg is thoroughly cooked, the salmonella bacteria organisms will be destroyed and will not make the person sick.

Prevention: No, a dash of rum does not kill the bacteria in eggnog. Heat the egg-milk mixture gently until it reaches 160 degrees, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Or just buy pasteurized eggnog from the grocery store.) And if you don't trust yourself not to eat raw cookie dough, modify the recipe by using an egg substitute.

SEASONAL PERILS 12/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 4:09pm]
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