Influenza Innovation: Santa Claus is coming to town ….during the flu season - an influenza education and communication campaign from HungaryArchived

ECDC comment

​Every year 6th of December is a great day for the children: Santa Claus visits them at home, at schools, at hospitals or at orphanages. Increasingly, workplaces organise programs for the employees’ children, and other public events are also held where children from different places arrive to celebrate. The main actor of these programs is the Santa Claus, often called Mikulas in Hungary, who brings gifts and sweets for the children.

Every year 6th of December is a great day for the children: Santa Claus visits them at home, at schools, at hospitals or at orphanages. Increasingly, workplaces organise programs for the employees’ children, and other public events are also held where children from different places arrive to celebrate. The main actor of these programs is the Santa Claus, often called Mikulas in Hungary, who brings gifts and sweets for the children.This winter celebration usually coincides with the winter flu season. As transmission frequently happens among children, it is important to prepare carefully for such events during the flu season to prevent the spread of influenza virus among the participants.

The National Public Health and Medical Officer Service launched a nationwide awareness campaign first in 2009 to get the actors playing Mikulas vaccinated. The action was also aimed at encouraging them to strictly keep basic hygiene rules and set a good example for the children. The primary aim was to slow down the spread of influenza among children and in the community, and the secondary aim was to protect at risk groups from severe influenza. Santa Claus was a symbolic figure to illustrate both and to support health promotion activities.

Here are some of the main messages:

  • If you organize a gathering with lots of children, find a spacious place with good ventilation and avoid crowding. 
  • Those who experience influenza-like symptoms should stay at home and avoid such gatherings.
  • Keep distance, avoid shaking hands and other direct contacts, and try to find alternative ways to deliver gifts to the children.
  • It is advised that Santa Claus actors wash their beards and moustache regularly, and do not kiss the children. It is important to clean their hands frequently. The organizers were advised to provide good hygienic facilities and remind the children for personal hygienic measures such as the right way of hand washing, cough etiquette and the use and disposal of tissue papers.
  • Santa Claus meets a lot of children during these events, so the prevention of influenza is of great importance for him. A lot of close contact with children puts Mikulas themselves at high risk of getting and passing over influenza. Vaccination against influenza is strongly recommended for them.
  • If Santa Claus is overweight, or suffers from chronic condition such as heart disease or diabetes, and thus belongs to the high-risk group for severe influenza, vaccination against influenza is especially strongly recommended. In this case vaccination is offered for them free of charge.

The government communication team started a nation-wide communication campaign to support this initiative. A video spot was also available about the vaccination of Santa Claus and his helpers to educate the parents and the children about the prevention of influenza, especially about the importance of getting vaccinated.

More information of this campaign is available at:http://www.voanews.com/english/news/Hungarys-Health-Authority-Warns-Santa-Claus-Of-Swine-Flu--78430432.html