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Video: Healthy Holiday Travel Tips

11/13/15 Christopher Sanford, MD, MPH, DTM&H, Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Associate Professor, Department of Global Health, University of Washington

Transcript of Interview With Dr. Christopher Sanford

If you’re hitting the road or taking flight, here’s a few tips that can keep you healthy while you travel.

I’m Dr. Christopher Sanford. I’m a family practice doctor and I work here at the University of Washington where I run a travel clinic. I wrote the chapter for the MSD Manual on travel medicine.

People behave differently during the holidays. It’s part of the allure, but some of the behaviors can make you feel a lot worse.

If I was going to list the five biggest hazards of travel, this would include stress and depression, jets and airports, junky fatty foods (eating too much), alcohol (drinking too much), and there are certain hazards that are correlated with going to low-income countries.

Families can be the best thing in the world. They can also be stressful, particularly if you aren’t used to spending a lot of time with them. So what I would not recommend doing is having a 12 to 15 hour session with family if you’re not used to seeing them a lot. I would plan breaks—movies, down time, regular exercise.

Also, a lot of people during travel tend to engage in holiday drinking, holiday eating, which can make you feel fairly God-awful. I might approach the holidays more like an athletic event—where you actually rest up in advance, you make sure you have enough regular sleep, you drink minimally or not at all. And I think you will feel more clear and more able to deal with some of the stress of the holidays on a regular basis.

Another hazard potentially with holiday travel is picking up infections on jets or airports.

When they’ve done studies on who gets head colds, and who gets influenza, going through jets and airports actually elevates your risk; something about the close quarters and being coughed on. So regular hand washing actually is a significant benefit. It sounds very low-tech, but when they do studies, you can bring your risk down for the common cold and influenza just by washing your hands with soap and water several times a day.

One more thing to take into consideration is if your holiday travel includes a low-income nation, then I recommend you see actually a travel clinic. This is a physician or a provider who has an expertise in travel medicine. Topics that you’ll talk about will include immunization, which will be somewhat different than if you were going to a high-income nation, malaria, medication, and maybe something for traveler’s diarrhea, should you get that.

I think that traveling with a full list of your medications is a good idea. You want to travel also with a list of your physicians and their contact information. And if you have certain chronic medical conditions, there are things that are good to take along with you. For example, if you’ve had a recent heart attack or other cardiac disease, probably traveling with an EKG is a good idea. Because if you get chest pain, what the ER doc is going to want to see is a recent EKG for comparison.

It’s a good idea to look at your previous year before travel. Anything you’ve used on an as-needed basis, I would take with you. So, for example, if you’ve used ibuprofen for headaches or Benadryl for an allergy, I would take some of that with you on the off chance that occurs during your holiday trip.

What we recommend for medication is definitely that people carry it in their carry-on because if you check it, you always have the risk of it going to the wrong continent. Similarly, I would always keep it in the original bottle you get it in from the pharmacy with the pharmacy name on it so that there’s no questions at customs and immigration.


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Specific Medical Conditions and Travel
Problems in Transit