If we look at the positive side of things as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will have to agree that much of the world has learned how to sanitize and prevent infection.
Did you notice the drastic reduction in upper respiratory infections from the “common cold” this past winter season? Wearing masks, cleaning surfaces and washing hands have always been the mainstay of infectious disease prevention. Now, people have seen how effective these measures can be.
With that in mind, many people are anxious to begin traveling again. I experienced this vacation excitement Memorial Day weekend. My family and I recently returned from beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. We saw a “gazillion” people on the road and apparently, the airports were no different. Most people we saw were not wearing masks. I assume they were fully vaccinated as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation suggests. (Please note that I am not naive enough to believe that those people were all vaccinated.)
Therefore, knowing that summer travel will begin to ramp up more and more, how do you stay well during this pandemic season?
Never travel when you are sick - if you can help it! Fellow passengers will appreciate you for not sharing whatever potentially infectious vector you may be harboring. In addition, cabin pressure in planes, unhealthy dining options and lack of rest could cause your illness to worsen, delaying recovery.
Do your research! If you are traveling out of the country, this step is crucial. The CDC has a fantastic website for researching recommendations for particular countries. Information regarding immunization suggestions and advice around which medication is appropriate for preventing certain diseases are located on the website. Please note that few countries are allowing Americans to enter currently and there are restrictions and requirements for entry, such as a negative COVID test. Therefore, please do your homework prior to travel. Also, keep in mind that just because our new COVID rates might be coming down, that might not be true for other countries.
Be wise as a serpent. (Not sure if serpents are wise but that is what people say.)
It is probably not the best idea to eat at little places off the side of the road! I recall seeing people sell roasted bat and rat meat many other kinds of meat and vegetables while in Africa. Eating such cuisine is a wonderful opportunity to get infected with E. coli, a very nasty little bacteria that will have you hunched over with abdominal cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. When traveling to an impoverished destination, I would advise you to ask your healthcare provider for antibiotics just in case you develop an infectious gastroenteritis. Better to have the medication and not need it than to be sick and not have it. Several of my patients and husband can attest to this.
This is the most important one.
Wash your hands as much as possible and never leave home without hand sanitizer. When traveling, whether by car, train or plane, you will have to touch various surfaces, many of which are just teaming with microbes. Washing your hands is your best weapon!
As a final reminder, the pandemic is NOT over and there are still millions of people who have not been vaccinated. If you are going to travel, at least do your part and get vaccinated.
Denise Hooks-Anderson, M.D., FAAFP is interim assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine.