December 19, 2013
By Richard Van Enk, PhD, director Bronson Infection Prevention & Epidemiology
There is an association between influenza (and other contagious diseases) and winter holidays. Some of the things we do to celebrate these important occasions with family and friends can increase the risk of getting sick. The CDC has noticed this and launched a travel health campaign this holiday season.
We often see a spike in influenza cases right after the December holidays, and we often see a shift in the influenza cases from primarily children to adults and the elderly. That transmission from children to the elderly may take place during holiday gatherings.
Travel itself can incease your risk, especially if you use airline or other public transportation. Airline travel these days is a perfect example of crowding people together in a small space; a great opportunity to share germs. Don’t travel at all if you have a fever, and if you have a cold, control your respiratory secretions. I know it is tempting to travel while you or your child is sick if you have paid a lot of money for a plane ticket, but it really is better for the sick person and the people you will be traveling to if you stay home until your fever breaks.
Carry and use hand hygiene products routinely as you shop, go through airports, or visit other public places. Most viruses enter your body when you get them on your hands and touch your face. Wash your hands when you get on and off your plane, before you eat, after you use the restroom, and after you cough or sneeze.
Try to get the influenza vaccines at least two weeks before you travel. It takes that long for the vaccine to produce full immunity.
Watch your over-all health when you are on vacation. Get plenty of sleep, watch your diet, stay well hydrated with water, avoid places where people may be smoking, and if you choose to drink alcohol, do it in moderation.
Most of the things that increase or decrease our risk of getting sick on vacation are things we choose to do. Let’s make healthy choices this year.