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Holiday Travel Advisory: Avoid These Germ-Laden Hotspots

Holiday Travel Advisory: Avoid These Germ-Laden Hotspots
(Copyright DPC)

By    |   Friday, 22 December 2017 10:41 AM

Traveling over the holidays? You’ll have plenty of company, with more than 100 million Americans expected to travel at least 50 miles to visit family and friends for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, according to AAA.

But all that travel ups the risks of catching — or spreading — a cold or the flu, with airplanes and airports teaming with pathogens. In fact, the holidays are a big reason that influenza tends to peak in January or February.

But you can take steps to reduce your risks and make sure your holidays are happy and healthy.

One option: Get a flu shot. Health experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone 6 months of age and older get vaccinated. Up to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu, which can cause serious complications and death among seniors, children, and people with pre-existing health conditions. Flu-related deaths range between 3,000 and 49,000 in the U.S. every year.

Another: If you’re among the estimated 6.4 million Americans flying to a holiday destination this year, be aware that certain surfaces on planes and in airports are teeming with disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and germs. A recent analysis by Travelmath.com, which helps people calculate the driving and flying time between cities, found airports and planes tend to be germier than the average American home.

The study also found that bathrooms have fewer germs than other areas you might not think are hotbeds of infectious pathogens. Tests showed the dirtiest places on most planes is the tray table — followed by overhead air vents and seat belt buckles, which harbor as many microbes as dirty lavatory flush buttons, the analysis showed.

Tray tables had 2,155 "colony forming units" — a measure of the number of bacteria or fungal cells that are able to multiply — per square inch, researchers found. That compares to just 265 CFU on the lavatory flush button, 285 CFU on the overhead air vent, and 230 CFU on the seat belt buckle. Some of those levels exceed typical microbial concentrations on household toilet seats, cell phones, kitchen countertops, and even money, according to the National Sanitation Foundation.

In airports, the findings were comparable, with tests showing that drinking fountain buttons had 1,240 colony forming units per square inch, compared to only 70 CFU on bathroom stall locks.

“Bathrooms were some of the cleaner surfaces tested, which may be contrary to conventional thought,” the researchers reported. “Regular cleaning schedules mean these surfaces are sanitized more frequently. This is a good thing.”

But the researchers added: “The bad news is that airlines and airports don't appear to be doing a good enough job of cleaning other things. Travelmath points out that the pressure on airlines to board a plane quickly has increased in recent decades, meaning tray tables often don't get cleaned until the end of the day.”

To reduce your risk of catching a cold, the flu, or something worse while on the road this holiday season, health experts recommend taking the following precautions:

  • Pack and use sanitizer wipes to clean plane trays, bathroom surfaces, and anything else you touch. Keep your hands away from your face and eyes, to avoid spreading germs. Try not to touch the seat-back pocket in front of you or the arm rests.
  • Ask to move your seat if someone near you is coughing or bring a mask you can wear if someone next to you appears sick.
  • Open the air vent "gaspers" overhead, 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.
  • 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. 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 can be dry, which hikes your risk of contracting a respiratory infection.
  • Don't use 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.

Experts also advise limiting close contact with family and friends as much as possible over the holidays because this increases your risk of catching a cold or the flu. Limit hugs and kisses, if you're feeling under the weather, and take wash your hands frequently.

In addition, 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. People who come down with the flu are infectious during the first seven days of the onset of symptoms; for children, it can even be longer — up to 21 days.

Finally, if you’re feeling sick, don’t travel at all — for your own good and the sake of fellow travelers. Some airlines will even waive the cost, if you cancel your flight because you're sick.

© 2019 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

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Holiday celebrations are a terrific time for spreading cheer. But they are also a great way to spread germs, cold, and flu viruses. If your holiday plans call for air travel this week, here are some precautions you can take to reduce your risk of catching a cold or the flu.
air, travel, plane, microbes, germs, cold, flu
Friday, 22 December 2017 10:41 AM
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