4 tips for healthy traveling during this ‘tripledemic’ cold and flu season

Whether you’re a germaphobe or you’ve got little ones, flying in a metallic cylinder for multiple hours among people who are coughing and sneezing can be anxiety-inducing, to say the very least.

An estimated 113 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home over the holidays, about 6% by plane, according to AAA. With a severe storm poised to snarl flights and roads, and COVID-19 cases on the rise, it could be a bumpy trip for some.

Having recently completed two ultra-long haul flights (19 hours and 14 hours each) myself, here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic I found myself adopting that were quite useful for preventing illness, especially as cold and flu season rears its ugly head and experts have warned of a possible “tripledemic.” 

Get vaccinated

The top tip for Americans this winter is to get vaccinated against both flu and COVID, according to one doctor.

“No. 1, get your flu vaccine, get your COVID vaccines; many people are also eligible for the bivalent boosters. If you’re unsure, reach out to your health care provider and see if you’re eligible for that,” Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician with the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, said in a recent blog post.

Anyone over six months of age is eligible for a flu shot, and given the data charting an uptick in infections, “the flu vaccine this year is a good match for the circulating strains that we have seen early in this flu season,” Dr. Rajapakse said.

Wear a mask

Dr. Rajapakse also suggested that people wear a mask when traveling in indoor spaces.

Though many jurisdictions have dropped indoor mask requirements, and most major airlines dropped mask mandates in April, wearing a mask is still one of the best ways to avoid getting sick. And if you’re the one who’s sick, you should consider wearing one, so you can avoid infecting others too.

“That mask protects against COVID-19 but also these other respiratory viruses that we’re seeing circulate. And for people who are at higher risk or who may be around people who are high risk, it’s especially important to go back to wearing masks in any indoor space where you’re around other people,” Dr. Rajapakse said.

“This is also true for traveling — if you’re in airports, on airplanes, taking a train or bus,” she added.

Test for COVID-19

Before attending any events, consider testing for COVID-19, Dr. Rajapakse said.

If you do have COVID, finding out early reduces your chances of exposing others to the virus.

And “if you’re feeling sick, don’t attend any gatherings. Because even if your COVID-19 test is negative, you could have one of these other viruses, so you’re still at risk for making other people sick,” Dr. Rajapakse stressed.

Practice good hygiene

Finally, an obvious one: Wash your hands.

That helps reduce the spread of germs. Consider using hand sanitizer before and after you use high-touch areas like restrooms, and before and after consuming food.

Also consider wiping down things you’re likely to touch a lot.

Since one can never know the health status of their seat’s previous inhabitant, one of the easiest ways to remove any potential lingering germs is to wipe down all surfaces the moment you get on the airplane or bus.

Write to: Aarthi Swaminathan at aarthi@marketwatch.com

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