Stay healthy this holiday season!

Headed to the airport? As if flight delays, crowded airports, and screaming babies weren’t enough to make you lose your zen, it’s also a breeding ground for catching a cold. The combination of an enclosed space, lots of people and no simple way for everyone to wash their hands creates an environment where germs are bound to multiply. To make sure you can actually enjoy your much-deserved time off, we spoke to Dr. Jerry Clements, a family doctor and travel medicine specialist, to get his advice for healthy, happy air travel.

Wipe, wipe baby
Ever watched a parent on a plane? They wipe down every visible surface, knowing that baby’s hands go absolutely everywhere and then straight into their mouths. That’s your first line of defense for yourself as well, Dr. Clements says. “Pack your antibacterial wipes! They should be standard issue at the check-in counter. We spread diseases by touching a hard surface where something can live for hours or days, compared to a soft surface which dries up quickly,” he explains. While Dr. Clements says that antibacterial gel is just as effective, it’s harder to spread on surfaces and you’re limited to a 3-ounce bottle, making wipes a better choice.

Brave wearing a mask
“Most of us worry about the recirculated air on airplanes, but that’s the least likely thing making you sick,” Dr. Clements says. “Airborne diseases are actually the rarest; the only disease I can think of that’s very hard to avoid in an airborne state is tuberculosis, which isn’t very common. Obviously, if someone sneezes in your face and they have a cold, you might get it, but stale air is not as much of a factor as people think it is,” he explains. Wearing masks on a plane is effective, Dr. Clements says, but not because it reduces the airborne spread—it just prevents you from coughing on your hands.

Skip the supplements
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to anything your doctor has suggested you take, but if you like to load up on over-the-counter supplements, you may want to save your money. “There’s really no science to suggest that you can boost your immune system by taking any kind of vitamin or supplement. Be well-hydrated, well-nourished, and in generally good health, and you’ll have a healthy immune system,” Dr. Clements says. “I do recommend probiotics, to start taking a few months before travel to any developing country to have plenty of good bacteria to compete against any other bacteria.”

Give it time
If you’re planning a big trip (the kind that might necessitate a trip to a travel medicine doctor, who specializes in assessing the health concerns for your specific trip and making sure your immunizations and medications are up to date), make sure to allow plenty of time before your departure. “If you can, go a month before the trip, but definitely try to build in at least two weeks,” Dr. Clements says. “If you have to go last minute, then do it, but antibodies take a while to develop and you might not arrive at your destination fully protected, so the earlier you can go the better.”

Pack like a pro
What’s in a travel medicine doctor’s carryon? If you’re going somewhere outside of a city, you want a basic first aid kit. “The most common medical issue is injury, like a cut or a broken bone,” Dr. Clements says. “Many doctors will have you take an antibiotic with you for traveler’s diarrhea—it’s not an infection, it’s just unfamiliar bacteria, but it can certainly ruin a trip. Have mosquito repellent, know where nearby hospitals and clinic offices are in a country—look them up online before you go. You can generally rely on bottled water in most parts of the world now, but follow advice about foods to watch out for.”

Originally Written by Laura Lustman. 

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