Eight Reasons Why Travelers are More Susceptible to Flu
Chris Gilbert, M.D., a general practitioner in Torrance, Calif., explains why travelers are more susceptible to flu and provides tips on how to stay healthy this flu season while traveling.
1. Travel can facilitate the spread of the flu virus through shared surfaces and air. It’s often assumed that flu illness levels increase due to cold weather because the increase in illness levels coincides with cold weather. In reality, flu illness levels increase during the winter because people spend more time indoors. While inside, people share more space with others, touch more surfaces and breathe more “shared” air. Traveling amplifies this situation. The high occupant density and the proximity of passengers in cars, buses, stations, airplanes, airports and even cruise ships increases the chance of coming into contact with someone with flu. Reduce your chances of swapping germs by avoiding contact with shared items. Don’t put your face directly on airline-supplied pillows or blankets that haven’t been sanitized.
2. Travel can enhance the spread of the flu virus geographically. Patterns of flu illness levels vary from year to year. During some seasons, flu activity peaks throughout the nation all at once. During other seasons, flu activity rolls through the country from region to region. In the latter situation, your out-of-town guest may bring you an unwanted present to be shared later by your family and co-workers. Furthermore, holiday travel often connects children—who tend to dislike hand-washing—with especially susceptible young cousins and older grandparents. Next time you visit family and friends, swap presents and Oscillococcinum®, not germs!
3. Travel can hamper efforts to wash hands. The majority of flu is transmitted hand-to-hand or skin-to-skin, so it’s important to wash your hands frequently. Ironically—just when travelers are particularly susceptible to respiratory illnesses due to close contact with a lot of people carrying cold and flu bugs—hand-washing becomes less convenient due to lack of facilities. During winter travel, large family gatherings, hugs and handshakes all provide ample opportunity for the flu virus to spread. If you can’t wash your hands thoroughly several times a day, rely on winter gloves when reasonable. More importantly, avoiding rubbing your eyes or nose.
4. Travel tends to cause dehydration. Airline travel increases susceptibility to illnesses due to the cabin’s dry air, accommodating the growth of viruses that thrive on low humidity. Additionally, travelers often refrain from drinking liquids to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom. Yet, it’s important to keep your mucous membranes moist. When they’re dry, they can’t keep germs at bay. A general rule is to drink at least 4 to 8 ounces of water for every hour in the air. Spritzing your face with water helps keep your skin moist. If you’re feeling under the weather, drinking fluids (as much or more than the daily recommended 8–10 glasses) prevents dehydration caused by fever, loosens mucus, keeps your throat moist, and lessens the chance of the virus’s ultimate success. Also travel with Oscillo® for symptoms of flu. Intended to be dissolved under the tongue without water, Oscillo® is ideal for travelers on the go.
5. Travel may bring about anxiety and stress. Will you arrive in time to make your next connection? Nearly everybody has received his or her baggage except you. What if you forgot to bring Aunt Ethel’s present? There’s no doubt that travel can be stressful. Research has shown that stress can increase your susceptibility to the flu virus, and can even increase the severity of flu-like symptoms. Try to reduce stress associated with travel. Be flexible, be prepared and build extra time into your schedule for a more relaxing trip.
6. Travel may disrupt exercise. Time limitations or lack of equipment on trips can cause faithful exercisers to take vacations from workouts. Even nonexercisers may be affected by prolonged sitting in tight quarters. Make an effort to continue exercising on trips. In a study reported in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,1 scientists found that exercise may prevent the elderly from getting colds and flu.
7. Travel often disrupts sleep patterns. Unusual travel schedules, early morning or late night activities, travel anxiety and even sleeping in a different bed can lead to lack of sleep. Rapidly crossing time zones can also disrupt a person’s internal clock and cause sleeplessness and fatigue. Get a full night’s sleep to keep your body’s natural defenses at optimum levels.
8. Travel often leads to poor eating habits. Travelers may tend to overeat at family functions or special nights out on the town. They may also undereat when faced with unusual food choices or may skip a meal altogether due to lack of time, motion sickness, or the anxiety of traveling. Additionally, eating late at night can lead to digestive problems and lack of sleep. Make an effort to maintain good eating habits as much as possible when traveling.
1. Kostka, Tomasz, Sophie E. Berthouze, Jean-René Lacour and Marc Bonnefoy. “The symptomatology of upper respiratory tract infections and exercise in elderly people.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 32.1 (2000) 46-51. Print.