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10 Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling
By: John Shufeldt, MD, FACEP
CEO, US CareWays
Millions of people board airplanes every day taking with them their own unique set of potential pathogens—making air travel and time spent in airports hazardous for your health. Here are 10 ways to avoid getting sick while traveling.
1. Beware the fomites: Be diligent about hand washing and using topical disinfectant. When you take your seat on the plane, use a hand sanitizer wipe to clean the tray table, seat belt buckles, arm rest and other surfaces you might come in contact with. Then, with another wipe or hand sanitizer, clean your hands and discard the wipes. The goal is to prevent your hands from becoming “fomites,” which are things that transfer germs. Imagine not sanitizing your area or hands, then using your fingers to eat the peanuts or pretzels given to you on the plane. This is a surefire way to expose yourself to the germs of the previous passenger who shared your seat.
2. Vaccines: Before you travel, make sure you are up-to-date on your immunizations. This includes the flu vaccine. Thousands of people die each year from influenza. You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Flu shots are safe and will protect you from the worse side effects of influenza. If you are traveling to places in the world that have diseases, like malaria that are endemic, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website to see what vaccines are recommended.
3. Staying hydrated: The humidity in the air on planes is much lower than that of ambient air. Staying hydrated is crucial to avoid getting sick. Plan to consume twice the amount of water you would normally consume during the same timeframe. To do this, bring your own water bottles on the plane and consume them during the flight. Phoenix Sky Harbor has water bottle filling stations post-security. It’s easy to fill up before your flight. Also, avoid alcohol while flying since it will contribute to your dehydration.
4. Blood clots: Keep moving your lower extremities while on the plane. Practice flexing your calf muscles while sitting and if you can, get up and walk up and down the aisle every hour or so. If you are on a long flight, wear support stockings and make sure you stay hydrated. All of these things will help you reduce the risk of developing blood clots in your lower extremities.
5. Sleep: If you are traveling to a different time zone, you may want to consider using Melatonin to help with the jet lag while adjusting. Some people will also take a half a Benadryl to help sleep if the internal clock is screwed up while traveling. Staying well-rested helps stave off infections by keeping your immune system functioning. There is a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and a depressed immune system.
6. Exercise: Do whatever you can to maintain your exercise routine. Daily cardiovascular conditioning helps with your immune system, can prevent respiratory infections and lowers the risk of blood clots forming. This is also true for smoking. Smoking impairs your immune system and makes you more prone to blood clots.
7. Avoid contact with your face: Remember, your hands are fomites that will transfer germs from others to you. Placing your hands around your eyes, nose or mouth will increase the likelihood that germs from others will infect you. If you have to touch your face, wash or disinfect your hands beforehand or use facial tissues.
8. Skin protection: Wear protective SPF clothing and use sunscreen to avoid excessive sun exposure. A bad sunburn will increase your risk of a skin infection. When traveling to mosquito-infested areas make sure you have appropriate mosquito netting, repellent
or both. Reducing the risk of mosquito-borne illness is crucial in those areas that are at risk for Zika or malaria.
9. Eating and drinking: Before you drink out of a can, make sure you wipe off the rim where your mouth will be touching with disinfectant or clean water. One study found that everything from mold to staphylococcus can live of the lid of a can. In addition, drink bottled water as opposed to tap water while traveling to those areas that do not purify their water supply. This also means don’t use ice in your drinks in those areas and don’t eat salads that have been prepared in untreated water.
10. Diet: Increase the amount of fiber you are eating a few days before you travel and continue it during your trip. This will help prevent constipation, which is very common while traveling. Also, increasing your water consumption will help reduce the risk of constipation.
While you can’t safeguard against every possible illness, following the recommendations above will significantly reduce the likelihood of getting sick while traveling.
And, if you are feeling ill or need an immunity boost, be sure to check out Sky Harbor’s Health Center located pre-security in Terminal 4 before or after your flight. For more information, visit uscareways.com