Don't Leave Preventative Health Practices at Work

The holidays provide many workers with much-needed vacation time, but that doesn't mean they should take a break from common-sense preventative health practices.

Some of the same guidelines for avoiding the spread of colds and flu in the workplace or while traveling for work also are applicable to holiday travel.

People are the main culprits when it comes to passing colds and flu, according to Dr. Walter Koppel, medical director for MEDEX Assistance Corp., a Towson, Md.-based provider of travel assistance and international medical insurance, and he offers these tips for staying healthy during the holiday travel season:

  • Since most germs spread by contact, wash your hands frequently and carry moist towelettes for times when soap and water are not available.
  • If a flu shot is not available, ask your doctor about the nasal spray flu vaccine (for ages 5 to 49 only), or about three preventative prescription drugs Tamiflu, effective for influenza A and B virus strains; or Symmetrel and Flumadine, both effective for influenza A only. Tamiflu also can be effective when started immediately following potential flu exposure.
  • Stress decreases immunity. To reduce holiday stress, avoid caffeine, which increases heart rate and heightens stressful feelings. For more help, ask your doctor about prescribing an anti-anxiety drug.
  • Be prepared with emergency medical kits.
  • When traveling in cramped quarters avoid deep vein thrombosis (which causes blood clots in the legs) by walking, stretching your legs or simply flexing your ankles in an up and down motion about once every hour and a half.
  • Keep prescription medications in their original pharmacy-labeled containers to avoid questions (or confiscation) at customs and pack them for safekeeping and easy access in your carry-on luggage, purse or briefcase.
  • When traveling by air with children and babies, equalize their ear pressure during take-offs and landings by giving infants a pacifier or baby bottle to suck on. Older children and adults can alleviate ear pressure by chewing gum.

Koppel says don't:

  • Mega-dose vitamin C or other vitamins in an attempt to avoid getting colds or flu. Keeping to the recommended dosage avoids such potential complications as kidney stones.
  • Wear a surgical mask or bring a battery-operated air-filter to avoid breathing airplane cabin air. Re-circulated airplane cabin air is safe and remarkably well filtered for germs and bacteria.
  • Bring your own bottled water on domestic flights. Water on domestic flights (and major western international carriers) generally comes bottled and is opened in front of you. Caution should still be exercised on smaller, international carriers.
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