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Holiday Travel Safety: How To Avoid Travel Health Hazards

First Posted: 11/23/2011 9:18 am   Updated: 11/29/2011 12:14 pm

It's official -- the holiday travel season is upon us. Historically, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving has kicked off the season, bringing droves of passengers to the air and the roads -- this year AAA predicted 42.5 million Americans would be traveling over that holiday weekend (a 4 percent increase from last year).

Of course, holiday travel can bring its unique set of metaphorical headaches, from packed planes and crowded roads to travel delays and holdups. But it comes with some real health concerns, as well -- as flu and cold season is ramping up, for instance, we might be sharing a seat with that passenger who seems to be single-handedly keeping the tissue factories in business this year. Or, we could end up stuck in a land of airport fast food with no healthy choices in sight, suffer from motion sickness by the first "Are we there yet?" in the car, or unknowingly be susceptible to a serious health problem exacerbated by plane travel.

Ready or not, 'tis the season for travel, so here's your primer on how to get through it unscathed.

The person next to me on the plane is coughing up a lung. Am I going to catch his cold?
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According to one study, passengers are 100 times more likely to catch a cold on a plane -- but don't stock up on the Kleenex quite yet.

"You're not doomed, you just have to take the proper precautions," says travel health expert Mark Genreau, M.D., senior staff physician and vice chair of the department of emergency medicine at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass.

He points out that the average adult will get about 2.5 colds a year -- and those who fall below that mark are probably doing so because they're taking the right precautions.

If you're seated next to someone suffering from a cold (and even if you're not), Genreau suggests turning on the air above your seat when you first sit down to a low to medium stream, so that when you put your hand out in front of your face, you'll feel a current (but not so high that it's uncomfortably cold).

Once the air is on, clean your hands with a sanitizer made from at least 60 percent alcohol, Genreau suggests, and then avoid touching any mucous membranes, including your mouth, eyes and nose.

Drinking plenty of water can also help to rehydrate dried-out mucous membranes from the flight.

Before you travel, Genreau suggests trying elderberry extract or North American Ginseng, both of which have some science behind their immune-boosting effects.

And finally, get good sleep before and after you travel, says travel medical expert Brenda Powell, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative Medicine. "Being sleep-deprived takes a toll on the immune system."
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