UCLA expert suggests measures for reducing risk of getting sick during holiday travel

It's that time of year when families jet off to all parts of the country – and the globe-;to share some holiday cheer. Unfortunately, all that travel forces people into often-crowded airplanes, automobiles and airports. And there's the sharing of hugs and kisses with loved ones upon arrival at their destination.

The result can be a cold or other bug that dims the holiday cheer, says Dr. Tara Vijayan, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"As much as we try to control our environment, there are risks we cannot avoid," she said. "There will be people who get sick despite their best intentions. But we can all certainly do our part to reduce our risk."

The main culprits are respiratory viruses that cause the common cold or bronchitis. These include adenovirus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), parainfluenza, and influenza. People with underlying lung disease, who have weakened immune systems, and infants or the elderly are particularly vulnerable to serious consequences of these viruses, Vijayan said.

Holiday travelers should also be wary of diarrheal illnesses, such as Salmonella or Campylobacter. These illnesses are more common in less developed countries where access to clean water is limited. However, they can effect travelers in all locations.

There are measures for reducing your risk of getting sick, Vijayan says, including:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds under running water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • In less-developed countries, avoid any unpeeled raw fruits or vegetables and only consume cooked food if possible. Avoid tap water and ice cubes. Only drink bottled or treated water.
  • Get vaccinated for all vaccine-preventable illnesses. These include influenza, typhoid fever (a type of Salmonella), hepatitis A and B, and pertussis. It takes about a week for the body to develop immunity following vaccination.
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