Getting Ready For That Big Vacation?

Here’s why you don’t want influenza to wreck your carefully laid-out plans

The holiday season is finally here! If you were having a busy year, then you certainly are looking forward to that big vacation you had planned meticulously for. After all, just like everyone else, you can’t wait to trade your formal shoes or heels for summer flip-flops or winter boots and spend some much-needed time with your family in a relaxing environment.

So, your highly anticipated day finally arrives and you’re all packed and ready to go. You board the plane excitedly, check into your hotel upon arrival and begin your first day of holiday, sight-seeing. Then, after completing that delicious dinner and wrapping it up with dessert, you happily head to bed ready for more adventures the next day.

Now, just imagine, the next morning you awake with a scratchy throat. As uncomfortable as it was, you go ahead with the day’s activities. Then to your utmost horror, by nightfall you have a raging fever which makes your teeth chatter. While you shiver under the covers, your head is pounding, your body aches and you just lay in bed without an ounce of energy.

Unfortunately, you can barely sleep due to that persistent cough and annoying fever. But since your fancy local tour package for the day is non-refundable, you can’t cancel it as the money would be wasted. So, your family goes ahead forlornly without you while you stay behind alone and sick in your hotel room.

Surely at this point, all you can think about is the horrible misery you are in, how you can’t stop coughing and why the fever continues to spike despite taking paracetamol and cough syrup. This has already turned into a classic traveller’s nightmare. Surely things can’t get any worse, you wonder. But it sure does.

While desperately hoping to get better, your health takes a downward spiral. You are now feeling seriously ill. You climb out of bed weakly and stumble into a taxi to see a doctor. Much to your dismay, the local doctor doesn’t speak your language well and you spend a frustrating 30 minutes explaining your symptoms. Finally, the doctor calmly concludes that you caught the insidious influenza virus. So, you return to your hotel with a mini pharmacy in your bag.

It’s been 3 miserable days since you arrived at your holiday destination, but you feel no better. Your fever is still raging, and you feel extremely weak. Your family is now troubled by your deteriorating health, and they rush you to the hospital. After enduring the hassle of paperwork for insurance claims, you are finally admitted and treated. So, you spend 2 days in hospital, feeling ill while watching endless foreign-language soap operas. Nothing is more depressing than that.

After a couple of days, your condition somewhat improves, and you are discharged from the hospital. You feel much better, but you only have a day or two left. So, you spend the few precious hours sight-seeing with your family. Your holiday had turned into nothing more than an expensive tour of foreign pharmacies, clinics and a hospital. Still looking for the bright side of your holiday? You will probably feel fine on your return flight to Malaysia.

It’s not the common cold, it’s influenza

As we all know, travelling is a truly enjoyable activity. But nothing ruins a holiday more than falling sick and having to suffer through it. Yet, you would often see many people travelling with influenza as it’s too inconvenient and expensive to postpone flights or reschedule hotel and tour bookings. So, these people who are ill then spread the influenza virus to those around them.

Influenza or flu is one of the most common infectious diseases among travellers1. It is caused by the notorious influenza virus and is not the same as the common cold. Those who are affected by influenza often have symptoms such as high fever, coughing, sneezing, and body aches2. To make matters worse, droplets from the cough or sneeze of the infected person can remain on solid surfaces for up to 48 hours3. So, you have a higher risk of catching influenza even before your holiday begins.

In tropical countries such as Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries, the influenza virus circulates throughout the year, whereas in countries with four seasons, influenza usually peaks during the autumn and winter months1.

Don’t take influenza lightly

When you travel as a family, it is important to be mindful of your children or elderly parents’ health and wellbeing. They are particularly at risk of developing serious complications from influenza including pneumonia, ear infection, meningitis, or even death if not promptly treated4.

Children below 5 years may not have a fully developed immune system while an older person’s immunity weakens due to ageing5,6. Additionally, if your elderly parents suffer from existing health problems such as diabetes, heart or lung disease, influenza could make their health condition worse7. So, not only would your holiday be ruined by influenza, you also risk racking up huge medical bills from the medication and hospitalisation.

Stay protected with influenza vaccination

While it’s almost impossible to stay away from people with influenza during your travels, you can still ensure you are well protected against it. In fact, the first item in your pre-holiday to-do list should be to consider getting an influenza vaccination for yourself and your family members.

Vaccination has been shown to be effective in reducing visits to the doctor by 34-44%8. Among children, it can reduce hospitalisation by a whopping 75%9. For older persons, influenza vaccination reduces hospitalisation by 29% and death by 49%1. For those who are concerned about their health when returning to work, influenza vaccination can reduce workdays lost due to influenza by 32-45%8.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), America, everyone above the age of six months should receive their influenza vaccination every year. The influenza vaccination helps your body build immunity against the circulating strains of influenza virus in that particular year. However, it is well-established that the influenza virus continuously mutates. Besides, different regions have different strains of influenza virus. So, by getting an annual influenza vaccination, you can be sure that your vaccine works effectively against the common virus and the mutated strains2.

You should also take the influenza vaccine at least 2 weeks before your scheduled trip so that your body has sufficient time to develop the antibodies and fully respond to the invading influenza virus. Some children between 6 months and 8 years may require 2 doses of the vaccine, 4 weeks apart, if they were never vaccinated before. So, speak to your paediatrician to ensure your children are properly vaccinated before your vacation begins11.

Lastly, basic personal hygiene can also help keep influenza at bay. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If it’s not available, use a hand sanitiser instead. Avoid unnecessarily touching your eyes, nose and mouth as this is how the influenza virus can spread and infect you. You could also wipe and disinfect common items such as the food tray in the plane or even touch screen devices before using them3.

So, before saying your good-byes to neighbours and colleagues, remember that a vacation can only be as exciting as having great health. Stay protected from influenza with your influenza vaccination so that you can have a fun-filled time in your sun-and-sand getaway or winter escapade.