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Stay healthy and safe when traveling this holiday season

By The Health News Team | November 22, 2022
Family at airport

With close to 68% of the U.S. population now vaccinated against COVID-19 and case numbers declining, the number of holiday travelers is expected to increase this year. People feel more comfortable getting out and about and don’t want to miss out on another holiday in the company of family and friends, driving an increase in airline travelers.

However, it is important to remember that the pandemic continues. And it’s not just COVID-19 that’s spreading. Flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are anticipated to surge this winter.

While the three illnesses are caused by different viruses, they share common symptoms, affect the respiratory system, are contagious, and can cause mild to severe illness. RSV is more likely to cause severe illness in young children, and pediatric hospitals across the country are reporting an unexpected early wave of cases.

“We know that travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19 and other contagious illnesses,” says Dr. Stephen Munday, a board-certified public health and occupational medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “If you are going to travel, you should be fully vaccinated against COVID and the flu.”

Flu and COVID-19 vaccines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine for all people age 6 months and older. Individuals 6 months and older can also receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and fully vaccinated people age 5 and older can receive the new bivalent COVID vaccine booster if at least two months have passed since completing primary vaccination or it has been two months since receiving a booster dose.

RSV vaccines are currently in development and expected to be available for pregnant people next year. The vaccines will be for pregnant adults to protect their infants in the first six months of life. In the meantime, preventive practices, such as staying home when sick, wearing a face mask and washing your hands often, can help prevent its spread.

Consider wearing a face mask when traveling
Although the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) withdrew the face mask requirement in April, the CDC recommends travelers continue to wear face coverings. All people age 2 and older should consider wearing a high-quality face mask in indoor public transportation settings, including airports and while on airplanes.

According to the CDC, face masks have been proven to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, especially when used widely by people in public settings. The practice particularly helps protect those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID, the flu and RSV, as well as airline and other travel industry employees who frequently come into close contact with hundreds of people every day.

Additional tips to stay safe while traveling include:

  • If you must fly, try to take flights with the fewest stops or layovers.

  • Frequently clean your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

  • When possible, try to maintain distance from anyone who is not traveling with you.

  • Avoid people who are sick.

  • Sanitize frequently touched surfaces.

And while the holidays evoke images of togetherness, it is recommended you also practice caution when attending large events and gatherings, especially if they are held indoors. To make gatherings safer, consider gathering outdoors; wearing a face mask in crowded settings; and avoiding small, poorly ventilated spaces.

Seek care if sick
You should also stay home and postpone travel or social plans if you feel sick. Talk with your doctor about getting tested for COVID-19 and the flu. Effective treatments are available for both illnesses and over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may help to reduce fever, headaches and body aches.

If your child is showing signs of RSV, talk with their doctor. Symptoms of RSV include:

  • Runny nose

  • Decrease in appetite

  • Coughing

  • Sneezing

  • Fever

  • Wheezing

It is important to keep children with RSV well-hydrated and manage their fever and discomfort. While most children will recover on their own in a week or two, infants younger than 6 months old might require hospitalization if they are having difficulty breathing or are dehydrated.

Help prevent a ‘tripledemic’
No matter how cautious you are, it is vital to understand that there are risks in traveling during a pandemic. This is especially true this year, with the potential surge in COVID, flu and RSV, which some are calling a “tripledemic.”

“It is important to recognize that you may get exposed to COVID-19 or another illness on your travels,” Dr. Munday says. “Plan accordingly for potential illness before, during or after travel and take care to avoid spreading your illness to others.”

Learn more about how to get flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines in San Diego.

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