Lori Collins knows what it’s like dodging the multitude of microbes that lurk in airport terminals and on handrails and other surfaces. The nurse and CSL Behring patient advocate was diagnosed with primary immunodeficiency (PI) as a child, and understands the anxiety many people with PI experience at the thought of traveling away from home for fear of getting sick.
“I shared that same fear until I was well into my 20s,” Lori says. “It’s very limiting. Now I travel on airplanes several times a month for my work and I rarely get sick.” What’s her secret? “I take the same preventive measures everyone should take, not just people with PI.”
That includes carrying and using alcohol-based hand sanitizer. “I also bring sanitary wipes when I travel and wipe the armrest and table tray on airplanes.” She avoids touching handrails and advises travelers to wipe their luggage with sanitizer wipes when they return home from a trip.
Immunologist and CSL Behring Senior Director of Research Strategy Dr. Melvin Berger says having PI does not put you under house arrest. “Go out and have fun,” he encourages PI patients, “but be prudent.” Berger offers the following travel tips to help stay healthy:
- Schedule your IgG replacement infusion just before you go, or add an extra infusion to “top off” for extra protection.
- If you self-infuse and are going on a prolonged trip, be sure to take your medicine and all necessary supplies. A letter from your doctor and picture of your product and supplies may be helpful with security checks.
- Ask your doctor for prescriptions and take the medications with you that you usually take if you have frequent exacerbations of bronchitis or other respiratory disease. If you have asthma be sure you have a rescue inhaler and if you have known food allergies, an epinephrine auto injector.
- Talk to your doctor about an appropriate prescription for traveler’s diarrhea in the area you are visiting, and take the meds with you, just in case. Antibiotic prophylaxis is not usually recommended unless you are already on it.
What else can you do? Nutrition, hygiene and sleep all play a role in promoting a robust immune system and maintaining good health. A healthy diet provides nutrients essential for body repair and maintenance. On the other hand, inadequate nutrition can lead to many illnesses including infections.
Good hygiene is a tried and tested way to help avoid contracting an illness. Regular and vigorous hand washing for 30 seconds is one practice that can help you stay healthy. Erratic sleep patterns, sometimes unavoidable when traveling, have been shown to have negative effects on the immune system. Try going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time each day and avoid eating heavy meals in the evening and long naps during the day.
Scientific studies suggest reducing stress can improve immune function. While some stress reducers aren’t easy to incorporate into your daily life when traveling, meditation and some form of physical activity are thought to help reduce stress.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Tips for Immune Compromised Travelers
- Discuss disease-prevention travel measures such as immunizations and drugs used for diseases such as malaria chemoprophylaxis, and whether they could destabilize your underlying medical condition or cause an adverse event.
- Use mosquito repellent containing DEET or other effective repellant if you are going to an area where biting insects are common.
- Follow the CDC’s advice for eating and drinking safely(https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/food-water-safety) and download CDC’s “Can I Eat This?(https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/apps-about#canieat)” app for advice on making safe food and drink choices when you travel.
- If you develop diarrhea, stay well-hydrated with safe liquids – bottled water or oral rehydration solution.
- Carbonated beverages in sealed containers are generally safe, but ice is no better than the water from which it is made.
- Be cautious about buying food from street vendors, particularly in developing nations.
- Be wary of raw or undercooked fish, shellfish or meat.
- Avoid local wild game outside the U.S., which can be a source of Ebola or SARS.
- Check for health hazards at your destination that would exacerbate your underlying medical condition, and interventions to mitigate these risks.
- Have a plan for when and how to seek care overseas and how to pay for it.
When you’ve taken these precautions, you can rest easy that you’ve done all you can to stay healthy while traveling. Now, it’s time to go out and have fun!