For many people, August is a time of transition into something new and a time for completion of summer time goals. During the month of August and often extending into the first two weeks of September, people take their final summer trips, start new school routines, and slowly push toward concluding summer’s more relaxed, if very hot, pace of life. People start thinking about the details of fall’s activities.
End-of-summer vacations, new school years, and fall trips for business or personal needs all have a few things in common from a health standpoint. Those things are: (1) immunizations for the whole family, not just the kids, and (2) helpful tips on how to stay healthy while traveling.
There is so much information about these two topics – immunizations and healthy travel – that as the writer of this article, I’ve decided it would be best to divide all of this information into two parts for easier reading “consumption”. So, this month, we’ll have two installments to our story; the first one, which you are reading now, will include some vaccine information and healthy travel tips.
Part 1 of Vaccine Information
To get started, let’s take a look at one of the most commonly discussed (and used) immunizations, the flu vaccine. Influenza vaccines, although not perfect, have many benefits and are certainly worth getting. Some people criticize the vaccines by saying they received the immunization and still got the flu. That is certainly possible. Flu vaccines can’t possibly cover every strain of influenza out in the public; however, they can cover some of the most common ones, making you less vulnerable to those disease strains. Although immunity conferred by the vaccine is not 100%, if you do contract one of the flu strains for which you have been vaccinated, your symptoms will likely be far less severe and last less long than had you not been vaccinated.
Also, getting a flu vaccine is very helpful to those persons around you, especially the very young, the very old, or the sick or disabled, all of whom are at much greater risk of developing life-threatening complications than a healthy young adult or middle aged person would be.
The flu vaccine takes about two weeks after injection to confer optimal immunity; so, again, start early for best results. However, even if you don’t get the vaccine until late in the flu season, it is better to get it late than never.
Flu vaccinations come in the trivalent variety (meaning protection against three types of flu) or the “quad”, meaning protection against four strains of flu. The “quad” vaccine isn’t always available everywhere, although it is a better choice from an immunity standpoint. If you can find the “quad” vaccine, get it. If the “quad” is not available to you, by all means, get the trivalent variety of injection. You’d be better off with a trivalent vaccine than none at all.
Serious complications can result from contracting the flu, such as pneumonia, dehydration, and even heart attacks. The flu is a serious disease with life-threatening possibilities. Take every precaution not to contract it.
Another fairly recently discovered benefit of getting vaccinated for influenza is a noticeable reduction in the risk of death from cardiac related events, such as heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. A review of six studies of more than 6,700 adults who were vaccinated for the flu indicated a 36% reduction in death by cardiac related causes. This 2015 report was based on information from Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Canada.
As mentioned above, pneumonia is a serious complication of the flu. However, pneumonia occurs quite often with no flu virus present. Often (mistakenly) thought of as a disease only for the very aged or for people with pre-existing conditions, in reality, pneumonia can strike anyone of any age at any time with little warning. For instance, something as commonplace as a light head cold can initiate a set of circumstances that allow pneumonia germs to take hold of a person. If the patient has a lot of sinus drainage down the back of the throat and into the chest, a secondary bacterial infection can “set up shop” in the wet, mucous coated lung tissue and/or bronchial tubes, resulting in pneumonia. Pneumonia can be quite difficult to eradicate in some patients. Weeks of downtime and multiple rounds of antibiotics may be necessary to clear pneumonia. Some weaker victims may never fully recover, keeping a low-grade cough and crushing fatigue for the rest of their lives. It is far better to prevent pneumonia than to have to endure it or its treatment options.
Fortunately for us, there are some vaccine choices for preventing pneumonia. Which type of vaccine you should receive is somewhat dependent on when, if ever, you were vaccinated in the past for pneumonia and what type of vaccine you received at the time of your last injection. You can be vaccinated for pneumonia more than once, but vaccines should be spaced apart properly. Consult with your doctor to figure out a proper pneumonia vaccination set-up for your personal needs.
Measles cases have been on the rise in Europe and the U.S. over the past few years. In 2011, there were 10,000 cases of measles in France alone, with thousands of other cases spread over several European countries in recent years. Although American statistics aren’t that dire yet, the U.S. has seen a concerning increase in numbers of measles cases. Travel between Europe and the U.S. is thought to contribute to an increase in cases in the States, along with “under-vaccination” of children. Adults in the U.S. may either not have been vaccinated properly as children, or vaccines from decades ago may no longer be providing adequate protection against the disease. In any case, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here in the U.S. recommends that all children and adults have their measles vaccines updated to stem the tide of measles proliferation.
Part 1 of Tips for Healthy Travel:
- If traveling out of the United States, start researching vaccine recommendations well in advance of your trip’s start date. Check with your doctor, as well as city, state, and national health authorities for advice on what diseases are prevalent in your destination country. If the consensus of your research points to the need for multiple vaccines, start early in receiving them, so that you may space out the vaccines, thereby allowing your immune system a chance to adjust to the challenges and work up immunity to the various diseases.
It doesn’t hurt to contact the visitor’s bureau (or similar entity) or health authorities in your destination country for their requirements (if any) or recommendations for vaccines. They can also be of assistance in advising you about what diseases are prevalent in their country for which there are no vaccines, and for which you may need to be prepared with precautions or medicines.
- When at a hotel or motel, prepare to clean the television remote, the alarm clock, ice bucket, and door handles yourself. Take along (or purchase soon after arriving) disinfecting wipes or rubbing alcohol (90% or greater) and paper towels. Maids rarely, if ever, clean these germ-infested items; so, “traveler beware”.
- Another pair of areas of likely contamination are the steering wheels and gearshifts of rental cars. The aforementioned items are rarely cleaned by car rental companies. Again, use your own disinfecting materials.
- There is some good news about airport restaurants and healthful eating. At 15 major U.S. airports, an average of 83% of restaurants have at least one vegetarian item on the menu now, as compared with 57% about 14 years ago. Most airport restaurants also now offer one or more low-fat or low-calorie meals.
- Stick with bottled water or canned beverages on airplanes. Many airlines don’t stock enough bottled water for everyone. When the bottled supply runs out, flight attendants may resort to using the airplane’s water system, which the EPA found to be contaminated with coliform bacteria in 15% of planes, as reported by AARP in 2013.
Often, you can buy bottled water in the airport yourself before boarding to be extra safe.
Darra McMullen is a Women’s Health Network Writer and Researcher.