Traveling over the holidays? You’ll have plenty of company, with more than 30 million Americans expected to take air flights to visit family and friends for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
The most common illness you can get when you are traveling is the flu.
We don’t know how bad the flu season will affect us this year, but we do know traveling is a good way to get and spread the flu virus.
While it’s a great time to spread cheer, it’s also high time for the spread of influenza and winter colds. Health experts note your chances of catching a nasty virus increase dramatically if you’re traveling this month.
“You are going to be around a lot of crowds in the airport at the stores, and people are going to cough on you, breathe on you, so it is important to practice good hygiene. If you are going to cough, please cover your cough; you want to make sure you are vaccinated, and if you have not been vaccinated for the flu, go ahead, and you can still get vaccinated for the flu,”said Corpus Christi Medical Center ER doctor, Kim Onufrak.
Flu season started at the beginning of October and so far, we have been average compared to other years.
“We don’t really have a flu season during the cold weather anymore, it’s really throughout the year now. It is starting to come later, but we arestarting to see it more now,” said Onufrak.
The flu virus is at our fingertips. It can live on hard surfaces for 24 hours and be spread a full day before a person knows he or she has the symptoms.
“We are starting to see flu here in the ER, so the signs and symptoms you want to be looking for are high fevers, body aches, chills, and just that general feeling of not feeling well,” said Onufrak.
But you can take steps to reduce your risks and make sure your holidays are happy and healthy.
“Make sure you are washing your hands, try not to touch your face during this holiday season because you don’t know if you are touching something somebody coughed or sneezed on, and that will prevent you from ingesting anything into your mouth, into your nose, and carry hand sanitizer; that usually helps if you are not around soap and water to wash your hands,” said Onufrak.
Just remember that the flu is out there right now. It’s not going to be here tomorrow or in a few weeks; it’s already here.
Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly. And although a cold can be a nuisance, you usually feel much worse with the flu.
Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)
- Aching muscles
- Chills and sweats
- Dry, persistent cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
When to see a doctor
Most people who get the flu can treat themselves at home and often don’t need to see a doctor.
If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, see your doctor right away. Taking antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours after you first notice symptoms may reduce the length of your illness and help prevent more-serious problems.
Several simple things can help prevent the spread of seasonal influenza:
- If you haven’t done it already, consider protecting yourself with a flu vaccination
- Cover your cough with a tissue or cough into your sleeve
- Wash your hands and keep your hands away from your face
- Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or appear ill
- Stay home if you are sick or keep family members home if they are sick