How to avoid getting sick while travelling this holiday season
A woman sneezes in this file image.
TORONTO -- The holidays are just around the corner and many Canadians have already begun booking their travel plans.
Unfortunately, becoming sick during the holidays is an all-too-familiar reality for many vacationers thanks to increased stress, exhausting travel, poor diets, changing weather, and the return of flu season.
To avoid the common cold or an even worse illness this holiday season, CTVNews.ca has collected several helpful tips from health-care professionals so travellers can fend off unwelcome sickness and enjoy their vacations in good health.
BEFORE THE TRIP
One of the very first things Canadians can do before they leave for a vacation is get a flu shot from their local clinic or pharmacy, according to one registered nurse.
Beatrix Morrallee, the nurse manager for Passport Health Canada, which operates dozens of travel health clinics across the country, said it’s particularly important for travellers to get their flu vaccination this time of year when many people are getting sick.
In addition to the flu shot, Morrallee said Canadians should visit their doctor or a travel health clinic to ensure they’re up-to-date on all their routine vaccinations, such as those for measles or tetanus.
Once those basics are covered, Morrallee said vacationers should check in with a doctor at least a month before departure to talk about destination-specific vaccines they might require for protection against various illnesses present in the country they’re planning to visit.
She also said travellers should visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website before their trip because it contains frequently updated travel health notices on outbreaks in specific countries.
Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver-based family physician, said one thing travellers often forget to do when they’re preparing for their vacation is to take care of themselves.
“People are often really busy with work and different things before they leave on vacation. Prioritize your healthy habits like sleep, exercise, and a good diet to keep your immune system strong,” she told CTVNews.ca during an interview in November.
What to pack
When it comes time to pack, both Lem and Morrallee advised travellers to bring a basic first aid kit containing essentials, such as antihistamines, anti-nausea, anti-diarrhea, pain-relief, and cold medications. Morrallee said hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes can also be useful additions to ward off germs.
Lem said it’s also a good idea to pack insect repellant for warmer destinations.
Most importantly, Lem and Morrallee said Canadians should ensure they have good travel medical insurance before they leave on their trip.
“It’s essential to buy travel health insurance anytime you leave your home country because medical expenses, especially if you get seriously ill, can pile up very quickly,” Lem explained.
Once the departure date arrives and it’s time to settle into a seat on the plane, train, bus, or whatever the mode of transportation, there are a few things travellers can to do to protect themselves during the journey.
The most important thing both Lem and Morrallee advised vacationers do is practise proper hand washing. Passengers should frequently wash their hands with soap and water throughout the trip. If soap and water isn’t readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead.
“Viruses can stay on cold surfaces for several days,” Morrallee said. “They need to wash their hands every time they touch a hard surface.”
Travellers should also bring disinfectant wipes to clean off any hard surfaces, such as their seatbelt and tray table, before they sit down.
Selecting a window seat can also decrease exposure to other passengers who are passing by the aisle, according to Lem. She also recommended using a nasal lubricant to protect the mucous membranes from viruses and bacteria.
Morrallee added that using a paper towel to open the bathroom door after handwashing is also a good idea.
Lastly, Lem and Morrallee said staying hydrated, eating well, and getting plenty of sleep during the voyage will go a long way in ensuring travellers remain healthy when they arrive at their destination.
DURING THE TRIP
While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of exploring a different place, particularly its cuisine, Lem and Morrallee said tourists should take certain precautions.
“To avoid those food-borne illnesses, travellers should always avoid drinking tap water, so either boil it or drink bottled water,” Lem said. “You want to avoid street food and then also avoid eating fruits and vegetables that haven’t been peeled or cooked. Also, avoid undercooked seafood and meat.”
Lem also reminded vacationers in tropical destinations to protect themselves from mosquitoes by wearing insect repellant and long-sleeved clothing and installing netting around the bed at night.
“You also want to be really careful about mosquitoes because they can transmit tropical diseases like Zika, malaria, and dengue [fever],” she said.
Maintain healthy habits
To avoid catching a cold, Lem said travellers shouldn’t let their regular healthy lifestyle to fall by the wayside.
“A lot of people throw their healthy habits out the door when they’re on vacation. Prioritize your sleep and your exercise and your healthy diet,” she said.
Despite taking extra precautions, if sickness strikes and medical attention is required, Morrallee said Canadians should make sure they see a reputable doctor who speaks the same language as them. For information on where to go, she said they can contact their embassy or their insurance provider.
To avoid getting sick as soon as they get home, Morrallee said the best thing travellers can do is continue taking care of themselves and jump right back into their routines and healthy habits.
“Their immune system might have worn down,” she said. “So again, it’s rest, exercise, and staying hydrated and hand washing.”