Beat the flu bug when you travel

  • Asia & Oceania
  • Tuesday, 23 Oct 2018

It sucks to get sick, especially when travelling.

Falling ill is no fun, especially during the holiday season when you’re looking forward to your vacation. After all, who wouldn’t look forward to trading their formal work shoes for some summer flip-flops or winter boots, and spending some much needed time with family in a relaxing environment?

So after months of planning, the day finally arrives, and you’re all packed and ready to go. But just imagine developing an itchy throat, and waking up the next day to a raging fever. You’re shivering under the covers, your head is pounding, your body is aching, and you’re laying in bed with all the energy drained out of you.

You can barely sleep because of the persistent cough and annoying fever. But you’re already on the way for your trip, or your travel arrangements have already been made and paid for, and are non-refundable! So, you can’t cancel!

You worry when going through the airport checkpoints because you might get quarantined! Your nose and ears are all stuck and it feels worse during the flight because of the cabin pressure.

When you arrive at your destination, your family gloomily proceeds with the day’s activities while you stay behind alone and ill in the hotel room. Or you muster up enough energy to get into the tour bus but can’t enjoy anything because you feel absolutely awful despite all the medication you’ve taken.

This is the classic traveller’s nightmare. Surely it can’t get any worse, but unfortunately, it does! You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, and you can’t do anything. Meh! What a holiday it is turning out to be.

Finally, you take a cab to see the doctor, and unfortunately, the doctor in your destination country doesn’t speak a word of English, or any other language known to you!

You spend a frustrating half hour trying to explain your systems and then return home with the flu medication the doctor has prescribed.

It’s been three days, but you’re feeling no better. Your fever shows no signs of letting up and you feel extremely weak. Your worried family rush you to hospital. After enduring the hassle of paperwork for insurance claims, you’re finally admitted and spend two days in hospital. How depressing to have to spend your holiday like this!

Finally, after two days, you’re discharged but you feel sad that you’ve wasted most of your holiday. You didn’t get to spend much time with your family or to see the sights.

All you’ve done is spend time in the hotel room, visiting the clinic, and hospital ... and taking lots of medications.

Never again! You say to yourself!

Yes, it’s true that you can prevent getting the flu during your holidays (or at other times).

It’s the flu (influenza)

Travelling may be an enjoyable activity but it’s never fun to travel when you’re sick. But, many people still travel when they’re ill because it’s too expensive and inconvenient to reschedule flights, accommodations, or tour bookings. So, sick travellers usually end up spreading the flu virus to the people around them.

Influenza or flu is a common infectious disease among travellers. It is caused by the influenza (flu) virus and isn’t the same as a common cold. The symptoms include high fever, coughing, sneezing, and body aches.

Even the droplets from coughing and sneezing can remain on solid surfaces for up to 48 hours. So, there is a higher risk of catching the flu.

In tropical countries such as Malaysia and other South-East Asian countries, the influenza virus circulates throughout the year, but in countries where there are four seasons, influenza usually peaks during the autumn and winter months.

Don’t take things lightly

If you’re travelling with your family, be mindful of your children’s or elderly parents’ health and well-being. They are more at risk of developing serious complications from the flu including pneumonia, ear infection, meningitis, and this could be fatal if not treated promptly.

This is because children below the age of five may not have a fully developed immune system, while an older person’s immunity weakens with age. Also, if your elderly parents suffer from health problems such as diabetes, heart or lung disease, catching the flu could make their health deteriorate drastically.

Stay protected, get a shot

Prevention is better than cure, especially when travelling.

It might not be possible to stay away from people who have the flu before or during your travels. But, you can still protect yourself against it.

You can protect yourself and your family members by getting the flu vaccination.

Vaccinations have proven to be effective in reducing visits to the doctor by 34%-44%. For children, it can reduce hospitalisation by a 75%. For older persons, it reduces hospitalisation by 29% and death by 49%.

Those who are concerned about their health when returning to work are not left out. Flu vaccinations can reduce workdays lost because of the flu by 32-45%.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone above the age of six months should receive their flu vaccination yearly.

This helps your body build immunity against the strains of flu virus circulating that particular year.

It has been established that the flu virus continuously mutates. Different regions also have different strains of flu virus. So, by getting an annual flu vaccination, you can ensure you are protected against the common virus as well as the mutated strains.

Get the flu vaccine at least two weeks prior to your trip so that your body has enough time to develop the antibodies and respond to the invading flu virus. Children between six months and eight years, might need two doses, four weeks apart, if they have never been vaccinated before. It is best to your paediatrician to make sure your children are properly protected before your vacation starts.

Basic personal hygiene can also help keep the flu at bay. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If it’s not available, use a hand sanitiser. Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth as this is how the flu virus spreads and infects you. Also, be sure to wipe and disinfect common items such as food trays on board the airplane and even touchscreen devices before using them.

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