Holiday Travel? Help Keep Your Family Flu-Free

Taking precautions before and during your trip can keep the flu from ruining your family vacation.

Holiday travel shows no signs of slowing down. According to the American Automobile Association, last December a record-breaking 112 million Americans took to the roads, rails and runways.

If you and your family are among those planning a getaway this year, keep in mind that holiday season is also flu season. Coming down with the flu and its potentially serious complications won’t just put a damper on your vacation, it can be especially nerve-racking when you’re away from your doctor or your child’s pediatrician. We put together some helpful tips to keep you and your family flu-free before and during travel…and to speed recovery in the chance you do get sick.

Before You Go

If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, what are you waiting for? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends one for everyone over six months of age. There are still a lot of misconceptions about the flu shot, primarily that it’s ineffective. While it’s true that efficacy rates vary each year depending on which strains of the virus are circulating, the CDC still recommends the vaccine as your best protection. The shot is available from your doctor, your child’s pediatrician, and at pharmacy clinics and urgent care centers everywhere. Make sure your family is immunized about two weeks before you hit the road – that’s how long it takes for the vaccine to provide protection.

The CDC also suggests packing a small travel kit with tissues, over-the-counter pain or fever medicine, soap, and an alcohol-based sanitizer to use in case soap and water are not available. Another smart idea: include facemasks to wear in case you find yourself near someone who’s ill. You can find these online and in pharmacies. And don’t forget your regular prescription medications, allergy or anti-diarrheal meds.

Travel only when you feel well. Whether you have the flu or a stomach bug, it’s worth putting off your trip for a couple of days so you can recover and avoid spreading your illness to someone else. Ideally, you should stay home until you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

While You’re Away

Needless to say, riding on planes, trains and buses can put you and your family at a higher risk for catching the flu given the huge numbers of people crammed into small spaces. The flu virus is especially hardy and can live for hours on seats, armrests and doorknobs.[iv] Since viruses commonly enter the body from the hands to the eyes or mouth, frequent hand washing is one of the most important steps you and your family can take to prevent infection. If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer or wipes to clean your and your child’s hands before eating or preparing food, inserting contact lenses or touching items that are likely to be contaminated such as ticket counters, computerized check-in kiosks, and bins at security checkpoints.

If you’re on a plane or train and someone nearby is persistently coughing or sneezing, ask to be reseated. If that’s not possible, use the facemasks from your handy travel health kit; on most flights, these are also available from the flight attendant. Wear facemasks with the colored side facing outward and the stiff edge on top. Pinch the edge to fit the shape of your nose.

What do you do if, despite these precautions, your child still develops flu symptoms like fever, chills, cough, muscle or body aches, vomiting and diarrhea? We put that question to Norman Moore, Ph.D., Director of Scientific Affairs, Infectious Disease at Abbott. He suggests taking the following four steps right away:

  1. Get a flu test. You don’t need your regular healthcare provider or your child’s pediatrician to get an official diagnosis. Quick and accurate flu tests such as the ID NOW™ Influenza A & B 2 molecular flu test are available in urgent care centers, pharmacy clinics and emergency rooms. “With innovations like the ID NOW, healthcare providers can perform and process the test, discuss results with the patient and make an informed treatment decision all in one, 15-minute patient visit,” says Dr. Moore.

  2. Use a flu treatment. The most important benefit of a rapid flu test is that you or your child can be diagnosed right away and get started on an antiviral flu treatment immediately. These FDA-approved antiviral treatments can help children and adults with the flu recover more quickly, but should be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to be effective. Antiviral medications are not sold over the counter, so you will need a prescription from your healthcare provider.

  3. Drink up. Anyone who is sick should be sure to stay well hydrated. Since getting a sick child to drink water can be challenging, Dr. Moore suggests upping your child’s intake of fruit and fruit juice,[vi] herbal tea, soups and sports drinks.

  4. Stop the spread. If you or your child has the flu, it’s easy to spread the virus to family members or others while travelling. This can be particularly dangerous for people at high risk for complications, such as infants, pregnant women, and older relatives with chronic diseases like heart disease or asthma, so keep your distance as much as you can. Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow and make sure all members of the family are vigilant about hand washing. Wipe down doorknobs, your car’s steering wheel and other surfaces with a household disinfectant.

Vacationing Abroad

If you get sick while out of the country, things can get a little more complicated. The CDC has some helpful recommendations if you’re planning a trip overseas:

  • Before leaving, check with your health insurance provider to confirm the limits of their coverage for emergency health care received abroad. You may decide to purchase travel insurance.
  •  Keep in mind that flu season begins in October and extends to spring in the Northern Hemisphere. But travel to the Southern Hemisphere and you can expect influenza to be active from April through September. And in the tropics, every season is flu season. The good news is that the flu shot you get before leaving home should protect against strains that are circulating in the rest of the world.
  • If anyone in your family has a medical condition, type up a list of information that includes allergies, blood type and current medications (including generic names). Have this translated into the local language if possible. Carry copies of all prescriptions.
  •  Most people with influenza will recover without medical care. But if symptoms are severe or the infected person is at high risk for complications, see a doctor. The U.S. embassy in the country you’re visiting can help you find medical help.

In the holiday rush and the excitement of planning your trip, don’t forget to take some simple precautions that can help ensure a healthy holiday season for you and your family. Safe travels to you and your family this holiday season!