New York Daily News: Santas may love to give, but there's one thing they'd rather not receive in return: swine flu.
It seems the nation's Santas want special priority for getting the H1N1 vaccine -- and not only because of all the snot-nosed kids pawing them all day long. It also has to do with the big bellies they sport, according to an AP report.
Research suggests that obesity could be a major risk factor in getting the disease.
Several organizations that deal with Santas have already held seminars on the subject, including the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas (an actual organization). The group held a recent meeting in Philadelphia to discuss the illness and to suggest its members use hand sanitizer and take vitamins to enhance their immune systems.
"We don't want any child to go away without seeing Santa," said Nicholas Trolli, the organization's president. "But it's not worth bringing your child to the mall, infecting the Santa, and infecting other children."
Ernest Berger, president of Santa America, went to an Alabama congressman last week to argue for the big guys in the red suits to be seen as priority cases for swine flu vaccines, along with health care workers and those who work with infants.
A spokesperson for the congressman, Republican Jo Bonner, said staff members were considering the action.
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.
Dr. Jack Turco, director of health services at Dartmouth College, said Santa might consider greeting children from a few feet away rather than holding them on his lap, or asking children with coughs to stand in a separate line.
"If we take this really seriously, and I think we should because people are dying, it wouldn't be inappropriate to say this is a year maybe we shouldn't do these mass gatherings," he said.
John Scheuch, executive director of Santa America, said he might suggest to parents that they come back another time if a child is visibly ill.
"The kids are in the strollers, sniffling and coughing and hacking ... In the meantime, they're interacting with other kids in line."
"I've had my H1N1," said Scheuch. "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."
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