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Flu-Fighting Tips for Holiday Travelers

Dec 20th 2013 at 10:46 PM

It's a traveler's nightmare: A single passenger thought to have tuberculosis grounded a US Airways Express flight from Texas to Arizona this month, prompting officials to urge 70 fellow fliers to get tested and vaccinated. Even though the passenger eventually tested negative for TB, the scare was a troubling preamble to the holiday season, when millions will travel by plane to visit family and friends.article research by

Health experts note your chances of catching a nasty bug increase dramatically if you're traveling this month — from tuberculosis, influenza, cold viruses, or other respiratory infections.

"We've seen an increase in influenza in December, January, and February in the past few years and holiday travel is probably a reason," says Stephanie Haridopolos, M.D., a board-certified family practitioner in Melbourne, Fla., and president-elect of the Brevard County Medical Society. "With travel you’re more vulnerable to colds and flu."read for more details visit my web page But Dr. Haridopolos says there are steps you can — and should take — to reduce your risks to make sure your holiday season is happy and healthy.

First, it's not too late to get a flu shot. There are several new options this year, including a new four-in-one vaccine that protects against four different strains of the virus — two Type A viruses and two Type B — one more than the traditional shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months of age and older get vaccinated, but only about 4 in 10 Americans get a flu shot. Up to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu, which can cause serious complications and even death among seniors and people with pre-existing health conditions. In addition, several other new flu vaccination options are available this year, including Fluzone high-dose vaccines recommended for older people to give them a quick boost in immune response, the Fluzone intradermal vaccine that use a pain-free "micro-needle" instead of a syringe to inject vaccine into the skin rather than the muscle, and a recombinant influenza vaccine called FluBlok grown in cell cultures instead of chicken eggs (the standard method for 50 years) for people with egg allergies. Other steps that can reduce your risk of catching a cold, the flu, or something worse while on the road this holiday season:
  • Pack sanitizer wipes and use them to clean airplane tray tables, bathroom surfaces, and anything else you touch. Try not to keep your hands away from your face and eyes, to avoid spreading germs. And, if possibly, keep your hands off the seat-back pocket in front of you or the arm rests.
  • Don't be shy about asking to move your seat if someone near you is coughing. Better yet: Bring a mask you can wear if you think someone next to you is sick.
  • Open the air vent "gaspers" overhead as much as possible, which improves circulation, and point the vents over your head so the air flows in front of your face to deflect any airborne viruses or bacteria heading your way.
  • Try to sit near the front of the plane, where ventilation is best, and avoid aisle seats, which will put you in greater contact with potentially sick passengers.
  • Boost your immune system by staying active, eating well, and getting plenty of rest in the days leading up to your travel.
  • Wash your hands frequently, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often — on and off the plane. And avoid shaking hands with fellow passengers.
  • Drink water or use a saline spray to keep nasal passages moist and hydrated. The air on planes is notoriously dry, which can increase your risk of contracting a respiratory infection because your mucus membranes can dry out.
  • Don't use those courtesy airline pillows and blankets, which may be loaded with germs from previous fliers.
  • If the plane's circulation is shut down during a ground delay, complain to the crew. Remember: It's as much in their interest as yours to reduce any risks of getting sick.
Finally, Dr. Haridopolos advises not traveling at all if you're sick — for your own good and the sake of fellow travelers. Some airlines even waive the cost, if you cancel your flight because you're sick. She also notes close contact with family and friends can increase your risk of catching a cold or the flu over the holidays. She recommends limiting hugs and kisses if you're feeling under the weather, and taking care to wash your hands frequently.
It's also a good idea to be on the lookout for signs of cold or flu — fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, sneezing, sinus congestion, sore throat, coughing headache, nausea, or diarrhea — and seek care and treatment. Also, be aware that people who come down with the flu are infectious during the first seven days of the onset of symptoms, and children it can even be longer — up to 21 days. If you do get the flu, antiviral treatments like Tamiflu — taken in the first two to three days of symptoms — can lessen the symptoms, shorten the duration, and prevent serious complications, like respiratory distress.
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