Tips to avoid catching infections this holiday season

(NEW YORK) — Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, millions of Americans will take to the roads and skies to visit family and friends. This can mean exposure to plenty of viral and bacterial pathogens through the air and through physical contact.

Here’s a few tips for avoiding the flu, cold or other infection, while traveling this winter.

Wipe Down Tray Tables and Wash Hands Before Eating

Between the seat belt sign and cramped quarters on an airplane, many passengers may feel they cannot get up to wash their hands before digging in to an in-flight meal. But washing hands is a simple and effective way to avoid infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Rather than giving up on hand hygiene completely, airline passengers stuck in their seats can use antibacterial wipes to clean tray tables and use hand sanitizer before eating.

Basic steps like these can make a big difference, according to Dr. Goutham Rao, Chairman of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

“The most common sense thing people can do is wash their hands often,” Rao told ABC News. “When you’re traveling … think how much contact you have with everyone fromm gate agents to certain passengers.”

The CDC recommends either hand washing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer with more than 60 percent alcohol to avoid picking up in-flight pathogens.

Get a Flu Shot

Receiving a flu shot at least two weeks in advance of travel gives the body enough time to develop antibodies to fight off the influenza virus, increasing potential protection from the virus, while in the air or around large groups of people.

Rao said the vaccine is especially key for people with compromised immune systems, including children and the elderly, during flu season.

“Peak time is December to March and people do travel a lot and mingle a lot, so the risk of getting the flu is much much higher than if you stayed home,” Rao said.

The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months of age receive the influenza vaccine.

Go for a Walk and Take Advantage of a Mini-Spa

Long delays, highway traffic jams or layovers can increase the stress level of any traveler. As stress increases, so do certain hormones that can increase inflammation and possibly diminish the immune system. Since some studies have shown massage can help diminish cortisol levels, stopping by an airport spa for a 10-minute massage can not only reduce tension in your shoulders and also giving your immune system a boost as stress levels go down.

To decrease stress and maintain health, Rao also recommends staying active. This doesn’t have to mean prolonged exercise like a 10-mile run; simply going for a brisk walk can be effective.

“It’s very stressful around the holidays for many people,” said Rao. “It can have an impact on your immune system … It’s important to have outlet for stress and stay active as much as you can.”

Watch the Holiday Cookies

Overindulging during the holiday season may be a time-honored tradition, but Rao said watching portion sizes during the holidays is key to staving off long-term weight gain.

Some people “gain more weight over a two-week period than they do for the rest of the year,” said Rao.

The health impacts of weight gain and obesity may not appear as quickly or as acutely as a case of the flu, but the long-term consequences are numerous, including increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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