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Tips to avoid getting sick when traveling

Written By: Melissa McDonald, UT Physicians | Updated: December 10, 2018
Parents and two kids running down the beach

There is nothing worse than being sick, except maybe being sick while traveling! ‘Tis the season for boarding airplanes, taking road trips, spending time with family and exchanging presents, but hopefully the gift-giving won’t include the common cold, flu or stomach bug!

So how do you protect yourself from catching a cold or the flu during this peak travel time? Charles Ericsson, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with UT Physicians, said “it’s the same advice now as it is for routine travel. While there can be more stress, I think travelers are aware of that.”

In the United States, the influenza virus spreads roughly from October to April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, flu actively is low, but is expected to increase in the coming weeks (

The common cold, flu and yes—even stomach bugs typically spread from person-to-person contact. When you cough or sneeze, tiny drops from an ill person move through the air and land on the mouths or noses of others nearby. Germs are also passed along when a person touches a surface and then areas on their own body such as their eyes, mouth or nose. Viruses like the flu can live two hours on surfaces such as the armrests on an airplane seat, handles on bathroom doors and more.

Healthy Travel Tips

· Wash your hands before meals and after using the restroom

· Bring hand sanitizer with you on trips and use frequently

· Use disinfecting wipes

· Stay six feet away from people coughing, sneezing or who appear to be ill

· Eat healthy

· Get plenty of rest

· Exercise

· Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough

· If prone to infections, you can consider wearing a mask if traveling by plane

The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to be vaccinated against the disease. It takes up to 10 days to develop optimal protection, so try to get your shot from your healthcare provider well before traveling. If you currently do not have a provider, you can get a vaccine at a UT Physicians clinic by calling 1-888-4UT-DOCS. Influenza vaccination is also conveniently offered at many pharmacies. The nasal spray flu vaccine is available again. Persons over the age of 65 should get this high potency vaccine.

Cold vs. Flu

Cold Symptoms

· Runny or stuffy nose (sneezing)

· Sore throat

· Typically mild to moderate fever

· Headache

· Cough

Flu Symptoms

· Typically moderate to high fever

· Cough

· Shaking chills

· Muscle or body aches

· Stuffy and runny nose

· Profound fatigue

· Sore throat

If you suspect you have the flu, you should contact your health care provider within the first 48 hours of feeling sick. They may decide to prescribe antiviral drugs for treatment, which are most effective when given shortly after the onset of disease.

Be Prepared for the Weather

If you’re traveling in an area with cold weather, you will need to be prepared for your chilly destination to protect your health, too.

Cold Weather Travel Guide

· Bundle up and dress in layers so your body stays warm

· Avoid overexertion

· Drink plenty of water so your body stays hydrated

· Wear eye and skin protection! Just because it is winter, doesn’t mean you won’t burn

While traveling during the cold and flu season can be risky, it’s certainly possible to avoid being sick. Practice good hygiene and be prepared! Happy Holidays!

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.