How to Stay Healthy While Traveling During Flu Season

Tips and tricks for minimizing exposure to germs while in transit

According to a recent InsureMyTrip survey, the biggest concern for travelers this Holiday season is their health. While 11% of travelers worry about terrorism or safety threats, 26% of travelers worry about weather and natural disasters, and 56% of travelers worry about flight delays or cancelations, the survey says that 73% of travelers worry that health issues will disrupt their travel plans. The survey comes out during the culmination of cold and flu season, which unfortunately, coincides, with one of the busiest travel times of the year. The good news is that there are a number of ways to minimize the on-the-road risk of exposure to common cold and flu germs.

By trade she’s a board certified nurse midwife who works at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, but with four marathons, 33 states traveled, and trips to dozens of countries under her belt, Kristin A. Mallon can definitely be described as an active traveler. When she’s on the road and feels a cold coming on, she takes a concoction of zinc, vitamin B and C, and elderberry extract. For travelers who don’t pack these supplements, she suggests raw oysters with fresh lemon. The mollusks contain all of the same vitamins and because they’re in their whole food form, the body will more easily absorb them.

Trudy Scott, a food-mood expert and the author of The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution is also a fan of all-natural products. Scott, who frequently travels for speaking events, never gets flu shots. Instead, when she feels something coming on, she relies on a regimen that includes gargling with tea tree oil diluted in warm water twice a day and taking lozenges that are made from pure manuka honey. It’s produced by bees in New Zealand and boasts above average antibacterial properties.

When raw oysters and manuka honey aren’t available and a traveler is limited to what they can find in the airport, Cold-EEZE is my own favorite flu-fighting remedy. Cold-EEZE has long been a staple for frequent fliers like me, and in November I was excited to discover two of their newer products; Cold Remedy Plus Natural Immune Support QuickMelts® and Cold Remedy Plus Natural Immune Support + Natural Energy QuickMelts®. They are the first Cold-EEZE products to contain standardized extracts of rose hips and Echinacea, which work to reduce the duration of the common cold and provide antioxidants that promote positive immune health. Of course both products also contain the key ingredient of zinc gluconate that is thought to stop the cold virus from reproducing.

“Rose hips, Echinacea, and zinc gluconate can boost your immune system and help ward off those pesky germs you’re exposed to while traveling” says Dr. Keri Peterson MD, a medical contributor and columnist for Women’s Health Magazine. Despite the fact that you might find more of her health tips in magazines, Dr. Peterson notes that shared print publications are often home to tons of flu germs, so she recommends packing your own reading material and leaving the bacteria-filled pages in the backseat pocket.

Of course, the flu or influenza virus is typically spread through airborne droplets, so even if you avoid touching anything, you’re still at risk, especially when exposed to other travelers. This is a fact that results in the ominous word that no traveler ever wants to hear or be a part of, outbreak. Fortunately, there is an app that travelers can use to learn if their destination is experiencing a flu outbreak. Using crowd sourcing to create a “Health Map” of flu symptoms, the Flu Near You app provides real time information and shows users the nearest vaccination location.  In honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week, December 8 -14, Flu Near You is even running a campaign through Twibbon to help combat the spread of the flu using social media. In addition to checking traffic and weather updates, travelers can now scroll through statuses for flu symptom updates.

It’s a shame that digital disease prevention via social media wasn’t around back in the 1930’s during the heydays of Howard Hughes. The world-famous aviator was notorious for his OCD and extreme hand-washing habits, but for a while at least, that didn’t stop him from seeing the world at his pace. He even set several air speed records in the process. Today, travelers have plenty of options when it comes to cold and flu prevention, whether it’s experimenting with natural supplements and vitamins or using their smart phones to add vaccination detours to their vacation itineraries. Of course, there’s always the option of staying home. For any traveler who has the flu or flu-like symptoms, sacrificing a trip for the sake of one’s health and the safety of others is the best way to guarantee good travel karma for future trips. Even the airlines agree, after all, there must be a reason they provide barf bags and not Kleenex. 


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