It’s not uncommon to experience gastrointestinal distress or to catch a respiratory illness during or shortly after traveling.
According to a cohort study involving 460 subjects, 79% of participants reported illness during travel or following their trip.
Several factors increase your risk of getting sick while away from home, such as travel-related stress, jet-lag, and contaminated food.
Crowded public settings, such as airplanes, buses, trains, restaurants, and public restrooms, can also expose you to pathogens that can increase your risk of illness.
With large crowds of people and close seating arrangements, air travel presents unique risks that can compromise immune system function and increase the likelihood of transmission of infectious diseases.
Thankfully, modern air filtration systems in today’s passenger planes allow for constant airflow and are equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which are the same filters used in hospital operating rooms.
These filters do not eliminate the risk of catching an airborne illness; however, they are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a highly effective countermeasure.
Travelers’ diarrhea (TD) is the most common illness affecting travelers, particularly when traveling abroad. Caused by a wide variety of intestinal pathogens (e.g., bacteria, viruses, protozoa), TD affects between 30% and 70% of travelers.
Symptoms of TD vary depending on the type of intestinal pathogen.
Respiratory illnesses are also common during or after travel.
According to the CDC, influenza (flu) is the most common vaccine-preventable illness acquired among travelers.
In the days and weeks leading up to your trip, be sure to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
According to one study, not getting enough quality sleep in the weeks before exposure to the virus that causes the common cold (rhinovirus) increases one’s susceptibility to getting sick.
Avoiding touching your face and frequently washing your hands can help minimize your risk of catching or spreading an illness.
Using hand soap, wash your hands under warm water for at least 20 seconds.
If you’re not near a sink, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to reduce some of the microbes on your hands.
Hand sanitizer doesn’t kill bacteria instantly; it can take between 15 and 30 seconds to take full effect.
The efficacy of hand sanitizer also depends on the volume you use.
Apply enough to cover the entire surface of both your hands and rub your hands together until they are dry.
Getting sick doesn’t have to be a part of your trip.
With a bit of preparation, certain precautions, and lifestyle modifications, you can reduce your risk of illness while traveling.
Be sure to adhere to current travel advisories and any recommendations from your government or public health agency.
If you’re a patient, speak to your integrative healthcare provider for a pre-travel check-up and recommendations specific to your wellness plan.