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How Thanksgiving Impacted Illness

December 10, 2021  ||  By Matt Albasi

November Fun Turns Into December Fevers 

With data anomalies caused by reporting delays and behavioral changes over the holidays now in our rearview, Thanksgiving’s impact on the country’s health is coming into focus — and it doesn’t look great. Kinsa data shows overall levels of fevers were increasing before the holiday, then dipped dramatically beginning on November 24 as people spent time with family, traveled, and otherwise didn’t spend much time taking their temperatures. Since then, the number of fevers across the country has shot up well above pre-Thanksgiving levels. CDC data shows an overall increase in test positivity for influenza and COVID case numbers are increasing across the country too. The combination of large gatherings and mixing of social groups through travel likely exacerbated the spread of both viruses.

A chart showing the percent of the population with a fever showing a dip after Thanksgiving, followed by a significant rise

One State Battling Notably High Levels of Fevers and COVID

In New York state, Kinsa data shows the percent of the population with a fever has reached the highest level of 2021. Fever levels began creeping up around September and have continued to climb since then. The record levels of fevers were fueled, in part, by holiday travel and gatherings leading to increased illness transmission. This year, rising levels of COVID-19, as well as flu in the region, exacerbated the trend. While the levels are elevated for the year, they are near “normal” (pre COVID-19) illness season levels, but, with COVID in circulation, the effect has been severe. Daily hospitalizations, mostly among the unvaccinated, continue to increase and deaths have begun to tick up as well. Vaccines and boosters — along with frequent hand washing, social distancing and mask wearing — are still the best way to prevent infection and serious illness from COVID-19. Vax up now to protect yourself and your loved ones this holiday season.

Rumbly Tummy After Thanksgiving? You’re Not Alone

In addition to elevated fever levels, a group of symptoms that was severely depressed since May 2020 is now growing strong. Kinsa symptom data shows gastrointestinal symptoms (G.I. symptoms) all but disappeared during the pandemic due to the overall decrease in illness from pandemic prevention behaviors. Now, it’s surging back to life. In every region, G.I. symptoms have shot up since Thanksgiving, and grandma’s “famous” potato salad may be to blame. Why?

Around the winter holidays, it’s common for illnesses to be transmitted at higher levels. This is caused by several different factors, including travel and large gatherings. Also, as people gather with friends and families, they tend to have more shared meals which means more food-borne illnesses are transmitted too. At these events, cooks may not practice proper food-handling hygiene, food can be left sitting out or heated improperly leading to unsafe food conditions. Only a single family is affected when this happens to a regular meal. However, during the holidays, one bad dish can spread food-borne illness to many households. Another contributor may be the recent increase in flu activity in parts of the country. The influenza variant in circulation this year, H3N2, can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Be sure to get your flu shot, and follow these food safety standards at your next multi-family meal.

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