NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)Flu season is off to an early start this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And if past years are any indication, it’s about to get a boost due to family gatherings and holiday parties, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Thursday.

What better way to spread cold and flu germs than to huddle a lot of people together, sharing food, drinks and even the air everyone is breathing. If just one of those folks is sick, it only takes a good cough or sneeze to get a whole lot of people sick.

Ah, the holidays, that wonderful time of year of being jammed into a crowded plane with a hundred strangers. Or sharing a meal with relatives you haven’t seen in a year and who may not share your views on politics or religion.

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Add in more crowds, some bad weather and it’s no wonder people get sick.

Now, imagine of few of these folks together at a holiday family gathering.

“That’s when people are in close quarters, right? People hugging each other. That’s a great way to spread influenza,” Dr. Bernard Camins said.

Camins is the Chief of Infection Prevention for the entire Mount Sinai Health System. He reminds us to not share drinking glasses and eating utensils, especially at big family gatherings.

And if Aunt Millie is sick, keep her away from the buffet where she can touch serving utensils or cough on the food. Do everyone a favor and make up a plate for her.

But the number one way to spread cold and flu germs is hand-to-hand contact, so the number one way to stay healthy is lots of hand washing, early and often.

When your guests arrive, instead of shaking hands, do a fist bump, or better yet, an elbow bump, and if you’re still worried, use plenty of hand sanitizer.

Also, remember that winter air is very dry and dry nasal passages are easier for viruses to invade. Moisturize your nose with a little ointment.

But you can’t control all your exposure to germs so your next best bet is to go into the season as healthy as possible with plenty of sleep, eating healthy and staying active.

If someone in the family is sick, ask them to stay home, especially if the family gathering will have some elderly or infant members. They’re very susceptible to serious flu complications.

And, of course, a flu vaccine is an essential defense against the flu. It’s still not too late because the flu season has a long way to go.

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