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Q&A;: Healthy Holiday Travel

With busy holiday travel weekends coming up, we discuss how holiday travel relates to your health – and we go beyond the “common” tips to discuss more serious health considerations to keep in mind as you travel. Today we hear from Dr. A.K. Misra, double board certified in Sports and Internal Medicine, and Medical Director of U.S. HealthWorks in South San Francisco.

Q: When it comes to traveling, what should we keep in mind regarding our health?

A: A lot depends on where you are headed. Often during this season we think mostly about domestic travel and catching a cold, the flu, etc. But many people are also traveling internationally.

In my past experience working at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), and at our current U.S. HealthWorks medical center right next to SFO, I’ve seen that international travelers often face the need for vaccinations prior to visiting a new country. They also need to be screened for certain conditions upon returning from specific regions of the world.

I advise all patients to research ahead of time whether or not a region of the world they are visiting is known for specific medical conditions. For example, I have seen Chikungunya Fever in patients who traveled to Latin and Central America, so I educate all my patients who travel to that region about the illness. The same goes for Malaria in the tropics, as well as much of Asia and Africa.

Q: What are some of the more common ailments that happen as a consequence of traveling?

A: Four organ systems are commonly affected by traveling: Gastrointestinal (diarrheal disorders), pulmonary (upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, pneumonia), skin (rashes, sores, bug bites), and ear/nose/throat (ear infections). These may be caused by a virus or bacteria.

Q: What are the top three health tips you recommend for travelers?

A: There are plenty of simple health tips, such as getting a good night’s sleep before traveling and ensuring you wash your hands after touching common surfaces to prevent spreading the flu or cold virus. However, I’d like to focus on three more serious health tips that are not as familiar to people.

First, I recommend that smokers try to stop smoking several days prior to travel because they are at a markedly elevated risk of “dropping a lung” (pneumothorax) when in a pressurized chamber, such as during a flight, for a prolonged time.

I also recommend that for flights over six hours, travelers should get up and walk up and down the aisle hourly to reduce their potential for deep vein thrombosis or blood clots, whether or not they have risk factors for developing blood clots.

Lastly, I advise women who are pregnant not to travel in their third trimester (the last three months of their pregnancy). Evidence shows that air travel can elevate the risk of pregnancy complications.

I hope everyone travels safely and stays healthy this holiday season.

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  • American College of Physicians
  • Andrews Research & Education Foundation
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • JJM Medical College