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How to Avoid Germs While Traveling During the Holidays

Posted on December 04 2018

The holidays are quickly approaching, which for some, mean traveling far and wide to visit family and friends. The last thing you want is to spend your time, or your children's time, being sick in bed. Unfortunately, germs are quite prevalent during this time of year, so it is always important to exercise caution when traveling to ensure that you and your family can avoid the nastiness of germs and illnesses. 

Experts agree that taking a few major precautions, such as washing hands frequently, are critical to keeping germs at bay while traveling. Below are some strategies to help protect yourself and your family from catching illnesses over the holidays.

3 Strategies to Protect Yourself & Your Family From Sickness

1. Be Up to Date on Immunizations: this includes traveling within the United States as well. Be sure that you and your child(ren) has had routine vaccinations for measles, whooping cough, and other serious illnesses that are on the normal CDC schedule. Also, anyone in your travel party who hasn't gotten a yearly flu shot should consider getting one before traveling. The CDC recommends an annual flu shot for everyone six months and older. For those that may not be familiar with the flu shot, it is not a live virus and doesn't cause the flu. In fact, it protects you and helps cut down on the general level of the flu being spread.

2. Practice Good Hand Hygiene: Washing hands often, especially before meals is the number one way to prevent illness whether you are at home or while traveling. Of course, you should help small children wash their hands properly and teach older kids how to wash them thoroughly. Using warm soap and water, lather up and scrub all over for 20 seconds, then rinse and dry. Also, for children, encourage them not to put dirty hands or other objects in their mouths.  

3. Carry and Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer: You should always wash your hands with soap and water when you can, but you should have a sanitizing gel or wipes with at least 60% alcohol available when and if soap and water aren't accessible. This is especially important in places where it may be difficult to get into a restroom, such as at amusement parks or even on airplanes.

Be sure to rub the hand sanitizer all over your hands until they are dry. If you can see dirt on your hands, then hand sanitizers won't be enough. Keep in mind that if swallowed, hand sanitizers are dangerous, so store them in a bag safely away from small children and supervise their use.

How to Fight Germs for Airplane Travel

Concerns regarding airplane germs often focus on the air quality - also knows as, recycled air. Experts say though, that the bigger concern should be airplane surfaces. The majority of infections, including respiratory infections, are passed by contact occurring within a very short distance rather than through the air.

If you're concerned about airplane germs, consider taking these measures:

1. Sanitize "high touch" areas: Germs linger longer on nonporous materials, such as plastic. Wipe down surfaces, such as tray tables, seats, armrests, and lavatory door handles with an alcohol based wipe or gel before you use them. With short cleaning time between flights, these areas do not always get cleaned and disinfected.

2. Avoid touching restroom surfaces: When washing your hands in an airplane or other public restrooms, turn off the faucet with a paper towel. Then, use another paper towel to dry your hands and open the door.

3. Bring your own blankets and pillows: If airplane blankets or pillows aren't delivered to you in a package, chances are that they have been used before. Having a familiar blanket and pillow to curl up with may also help children feel more comfortable during air travel.

4. Drink bottled water: In water quality tests, the EPA discovered coliform bacteria and E. Coli in some water samples. In 2009, the EPA established tougher rules for airplane water. Generally, however, the numbers of food and water borne illnesses from airplane travel are low, but still it's always best to exercise caution.   

5. Ask sick passengers near you to observe cold and flu etiquetteif someone near you isn't covering their coughs or sneezes, politely ask them to, and be sure that you do the same. When coughing or sneezing, use a tissue or your elbow to cough or sneeze into, and always make sure to wash your hands afterward. 

6. Put distance between you and sick passengers: if possible, ask the flight attendant if you, or you and your child, can move to another row. If that is not possible, be sure to follow the correct precautions to ensure your health. In order to protect your child, take the seat next to the sick person instead of putting your child there. You're likely to be more conscious of what you touch and how to prevent infection.

Other Germ-Fighting Travel Tips

Hotels: Studies have found that when people with colds stayed overnight in hotel rooms, many surfaces remained contaminated with rhinovirus for at least a day. Health experts point out that when you stay in a hotel, you should always wipe down remote controls, light switches, telephones, doorknobs, toilet seat handles, faucet handles, and other high touch areas as a precaution.

Amusement Parks: Be careful about what you eat. Avoid food that may have been sitting out for a long time. Hand hygiene is especially important, since you often are unable to wipe down germy surfaces at amusement parks.

Swimming pools and water parks: Make sure that you and your children rinse off before and after visiting pools and water parks. These places can be breeding grounds for pink eye, various skin viruses, and cryptosporidium and giardia, which cause diarrhea. Remember that chlorine does not kill all bacteria. Also, be sure to teach young kids to avoid swallowing the water in pools and water parks.

General Wellness Tips

While indulging in a few treats is a perfectly normal right of passage during the holiday season, it's important to keep in mind your immunity. Too many treats, not enough sleep, and being constantly on the go, can quickly wear down your immunity, as well as your child's. Low immunity can make you - and them - more prone to illness.

Remember to drink enough liquids and encourage your child or children to do the same.

Stick closely to your normal, healthy diet. This not only gives you the nutrients you will need to fight infection, it can also help prevent diarrhea or constipation, which are common when traveling. Instead of buying fast food, eating out, or filling up on snacks, consider bringing your favorite healthy foods on road trips or even airplanes.

Lastly, don't neglect your sleep. Sticking to your normal bedtime will help you sleep better. Avoid high caffeinated beverages before bed, as well foods that are high in sugar. Studies show that drinking tea - particularly, chamomile tea -  before bedtime has several health benefits that can put your mind at ease, and help keep your health in check.

Whichever strategy you use to keep harmful bacteria away, remember that it is common to develop a cold or infection during the holidays, especially when traveling. Stress is usually at a high, which can severely effect the immune system, leaving more and more people exposed to contamination from those nasty germs. Following the above protocols won't guarantee that you won't become sick, but they will greatly lower your chances.  

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