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Taking the pain out of holiday travel

December 12, 2016

Hitting the road (or the air) over the festive break? Keep your travels trouble-free (as much as possible) with these tips.

You've saved your pennies, packed your bags and you're finally heading off on that hard-earned break.

But before the fun begins, you probably need to travel, which may mean spending hours in a virus-infested plane or vomit-scented car. So how do you get to your destination with health and humour in tact?

Take the plane (and a box of tissues)

Are you dreading an upcoming plane trip because of a fear it will mean catching a cold or flu?

Many of us see planes as cold and flu factories, with recirculated air spreading viruses around a long metal tube. But that's only partly true. There's no doubt travelling by plane increases your risk of respiratory infections, but it has more to do with passengers being crowded into a confined space than because of any recirculated air you breathe, says infectious diseases specialist Dr Irani Ratnam.

That's because:

  • Usually planes use only 50 per cent recirculated air, and it's filtered to remove bacteria, fungi and viruses (the filters can trap even viruses, because the viruses travel on droplets large enough to be filtered);

  • The other 50 per cent of air in planes is fresh air (taken in through engines) which is germ-free at high altitude.

The other factor that helps is that in modern planes, airflow is from the top of the cabin down to the floor – limiting how much it's "shared" between different passengers. In older aircraft, air moved from front to back, sharing it more widely.

However if someone's sneezing on your plane, you're pretty much stuck there and there's still a fair chance any germs will drift your way before they're sucked up by a filter.

You're most likely to get sick if you are:

  • sitting within two rows of somebody who's infected

  • on a long flight – especially more than eight hours

  • on a very crowded plane.

If a plane trip is unavoidable, your options are limited but Ratnam recommends:

  • considering a flu vaccination before you travel. But bear in mind it won't protect you from all strains and won't protect against other bugs like those that cause colds.

  • where possible, keeping your distance from fellow passengers who seem unwell. Don't sit near them in transit lounges for instance.

  • practising good hand hygiene, especially after visiting the toilet – you can pick up pathogens from handles, taps and tray tables. Disinfectant hand gel can be useful.

Otherwise, drive to your destination if that's an option. But there'll be no smiling attendants to amuse you with their safety demonstrations...

Try non-drug remedies for motion sickness first

Travelling with kids prone to motion sickness takes the shine off any trip, and the trend to rely on DVD players and hand-held computers to help little ones pass the journey doesn't help.

That's because motion sickness, while poorly understood, involves "some kind of conflict that our brain has about body motion", says expert Linda Graudins. And reading or looking at a screen makes this "conflict" worse.

While there are plenty of preventive medications, non-drug approaches are best, says Graudins, a pharmacist with the Paediatric Therapeutics Program at Sydney Children's Hospital.

It pays to know that none of the travel sickness medicines available in Australia have been tested on kids; the doses are extrapolated from adult doses.

While not dangerous if taken as directed, "some kids are more prone to side effects than others so you do have to watch out for that." Side-effects of these drugs can include drowsiness (or its opposite, agitation) along with dry mouth and urinary retention if the child has more than one dose.

(Also, when travelling by plane, parents should note that the combination of drowsiness from a travel sickness medicine, and low oxygen pressure in the cabin can be risky for children under two, those with chronic illnesses, and those with infections.)

It's better to try some of the following first:

  • encouraging children to look out the window or toward the horizon

  • not allowing reading or focusing on DVDs or games while travelling

  • using a pillow or headrest to keep the head still

  • seating children in the middle car seat, if possible, or in the front passenger seat (children under 12 should not sit in this seat if the vehicle has an airbag)

  • seating the child in the middle row of a vehicle that has three rows

  • requesting a seat over the wing if travelling by plane

  • reclining the child's seat if possible

  • encouraging light snacks – crackers, fruit, salad – rather than greasy food

  • opening windows if possible

  • keeping calm – motion sickness is more likely to happen if the child is scared about getting sick.

Sometimes in a car, you just have to "open a window, stop, give them a little biscuit, go on a little picnic." Sure, it might make the trip a little longer, but the alternative is far worse.


Buckle your kids up wisely

Sadly, car accidents are the most common cause of death and injury for children under 14 and incorrect or less-than-ideal use of seat belts and child restraints is a significant contributing factor.

Bear in mind that new guidelines released this year include the following recommendations:

– children stay in booster seats for longer, possibly until they are 12 (unless they reach a minimum height) and – children under 12 (or under a minimum height) sit only in the back seat, due to the risks posed by airbags in front seats. (If you cannot avoid having a younger child in the front seat, then ensure the seat is as far back as possible so the child is further away from the airbag.)

Sound over the top? Unfortunately, kids too short for adult seats tend to slouch down until their knees bend in front of the seat. This means they can't sit upright against the back of the seat and the seatbelt sits too high across their abdomen. In a crash, there's way too much force through their abdomen and they end up with serious abdominal injuries, or possibly spinal injuries as well.

It isn't pretty when small kids sit in a front seat with an airbag either; the bag can inflate at great speed under their chins and force their head bag, with potentially horrific outcomes.

From ABC Health

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