How to stay healthy during holiday travel | Tech US News

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It’s hard to believe, but here we are getting ready to start our own third COVID winter, and just like the previous two COVID winters, there are many unknowns ahead. This winter will be unique from the previous two in that it will be the first during which there will be almost no pandemic precautions, such as mandatory masking on airplanes. And just as we enter the busy holiday travel season, COVID is circulating alongside other viruses that were more muted in the first two years of the pandemic, such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which are experiencing a resurgence this fall.

“We’re all familiar with winter being a time of higher risk for respiratory viruses. This year is expected to be worse, and one reason is COVID. But the other two reasons are flu and RSV, which are about to increase a lot the activity,” says Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital.

Blumberg notes that due to the COVID precautions we’ve been taking over the past two years, incl social distancing and masking, the United States experienced a decrease in rates of non-Covid respiratory viral infections in the previous two winters, and unfortunately, “that led to people being more susceptible to infection. [now]Blumberg says.

That means we are once again moving into new and uncharted public health territory, a potential “triple threat” as some have called it.

“This is one of the first winters we’ve had with these normal viruses and with COVID at the same time. A lot of us are perfected on what our hospital systems are going to be? How this winter plays out will tell us a lot [about] whether we’re in this emergency phase of the pandemic or moving into something else,” says Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist who is the director of population health analysis at the Meadows Institute for Mental Health Policy. author of the “Your Local Epidemiologist” newsletter.

This fall and winter is also shaping up to be the busiest holiday travel season since 2019, with the number of air travelers passing through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport checkpoints reaching their highest levels since inception of the pandemic, sometimes surpassing it. pre-pandemic levels.

For those heading into the holiday travel fray, the current scenario presents two sets of problems. First, there’s the worry of getting sick before or during a trip, not just with COVID, but with any number of viruses. This can affect travel on several levels, from forcing a cancellation to forcing a traveler to spend their vacation time stuck inside or not feeling well. Second, there is the concern about making others sick. The holidays are a time when many travelers gather with friends and family, and as with the past two holiday seasons, infectious disease experts remain most concerned about the risk to vulnerable populations, including the elderly and immunocompromised

The good news is that we have many tools at our disposal to combat transmission, many of which we have accumulated over the past two and a half years. We can also configure our immune system for success before the holiday season. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers these tips on how to improve our body’s natural defenses.

How to improve your immunity

  • Make healthy eating decisions: Limit saturated fat, cholesterol, salt and sugars.
  • Exercise and reduce your stress: Physical activity has numerous health benefits and can also boost immunity by reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Have a good night’s sleep: The CDC reports that “sleep loss can negatively affect different parts of the immune system,” which can “lead to the development of a wide variety of disorders.”
  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: Both of these activities can weaken the body’s ability to fight disease.
A person walking in the snow

Physical activity helps reduce stress and boost immunity, according to the CDC.

How to stay healthy this holiday season

In addition to helping our immune system do its job, here are actions travelers can take this holiday travel season to improve their chances of healthy getaways and gatherings.

Get your flu shot and the COVID booster

With the United States currently “experiencing a resurgence in the circulation of non-COVID-19 respiratory viruses,” according to a Nov. 4 health alert issued by the CDC, the agency strongly encourages everyone to get their flu and COVID-19 vaccines updated

“Both the annual flu vaccine and the updated COVID-19 vaccine are essential to ensure you and your family are protected. I want to stress that with the holidays right around the corner, vaccination is your best protection against infection ”, said Dr. José. Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a Nov. 4 news conference on the current rise in respiratory diseases.

The CDC’s update came just a couple of weeks after President Joe Biden issued a plea to the American public on Oct. 25 to avoid a repeat of the past two pandemic winters, during which we saw an increase in COVID infections, hospitalizations and the deaths. He urged Americans to make sure they are up to date on their COVID vaccines, including the recently released Omicron bivalent booster.

The president noted that just over 20 million Americans have received the latest bivalent COVID booster, less than 10 percent of those who are eligible.

Powercom KN95 face mask

Infectious disease experts recommend wearing a high-quality mask, like this Powecom KN95, when traveling.

Mask up while traveling

On April 18, 2022, a federal ruling in Florida struck down the nation’s national transportation mask mandate, and since then, masks are no longer required on trains, planes, or in airports and other transportation hubs. But for those who want to protect themselves from viruses that may be circulating on the plane, at the airport or in any common space, infectious disease experts recommend continuing to wear masks.

“I’ve traveled and hardly anyone wears a mask on airplanes, and I just don’t get it,” says Dr. Blumberg. “You don’t know who you’re going to be sitting next to on a plane. You don’t know if that slight cough is an allergy or if they’re coming down with COVID, RSV or the flu. You just don’t know. And then you’re going to be sitting next to them for a while.” .

Blumberg notes that in the past three years he has only had one upper respiratory tract infection even though he is a pediatrician who sees sick children. He attributes this in large part to using a high-quality mask like the N-95.

“I’m very happy with that. I don’t like getting sick,” Blumberg adds. “That’s why I think it’s more important than ever for people who really want to stay healthy and lower their risk: They should continue to wear masks.”

For its part, the CDC continues to recommend that all people over the age of two continue to wear masks on indoor public transportation.

Reduce your risks (and the risks you pose to others) before you travel

According to Johns Hopkins University, as of November 11, more than 2,100 Americans continue to die each week from COVID-19. “The vast majority are older and are vaccinated, but they are not up to date. As an epidemiologist, I refuse to accept this as the ‘new normal,'” Dr. Jetelina wrote in one of her recent newsletters.

If you want to improve your chances of walking out the door in good health and protect vulnerable friends or family at your holiday gatherings, one way to do that is to be extra vigilant in the days and weeks leading up to your departure.

Dr. Jetelina emphasizes that when it comes to holiday travel, she is “laser focused on those over 65. If we’re going to see grandpa, we’re going to be very careful that week before. Which means we wear masks everywhere, we’re going to cadence antigen tests, [we’re] trying to do anything to break that chain of transmission for those seniors. And that’s not all [for] covid That’s flu too, that’s RSV too.”

Use those COVID tests at home

The holidays are a great time to pull out those COVID home testing supplies (but make sure they’re not expired). Epidemiologists advise using them before going out and taking some with you during your travels. While they are not foolproof, they provide an additional tool in our COVID detection toolbox. Dr. Jetelina recommends testing two days before departure and again the morning of any event or gathering, such as Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving feast outside

Eating and meeting outside, if possible, is another way to reduce risk.

Embrace the outdoors

Fresh air and ventilation are still our friends when we hope to reduce the risk of transmission. Before traveling, epidemiologists recommend avoiding crowded indoor spaces altogether or wearing a mask while inside, such as when heading to the grocery store. If the weather is conducive to hosting outdoor meals or celebrations, this is another way to reduce risk.

Be flexible with your travel plans

Despite our best efforts, there is a chance that we will get sick before, during or after our travels. This means that we must be prepared to cancel or modify our plans at the last minute. Better to make peace with this possibility and have built-in safeguards for it than to blindly hope for the best.

Have a contingency plan in place for the fallout from any cancellations, as well as a plan for if you’re stuck at your destination for several extra days with COVID or a nasty flu. Depending on the complexity of the trip, look into options such as adding Cancel for Any Reason cover to your travel insurance plan so you can recover some of your losses if you need to cancel at the last minute due to illness. All major US airlines still don’t charge flight change fees for all but Basic Economy fares, so if you need to cancel, you can deposit the money you’ve spent on flights as future flight credits for repeat when you or others. the crew feels better.

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