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What travelers need to know about the flu season this year

by Abigail Wise
Nov 28, 2012

As flu season approaches, germs are spreading faster than holiday cheer. Traveling through a highly populated place, such as an airport, raises the risk of contracting the seasonal flu. Plus, this year, experts predict an earlier outbreak than usual.

“I expect the season to begin early this year,” said Dr. Jorge Parada, medical director and committee chair of infection prevention and control and professor of medicine at Loyola University. “We have already diagnosed a bunch of lab-confirmed cases of flu here at Loyola.”

Travelers may be more at risk than non-travelers because they’re more likely to be in contact with other people, according to Parada. However, sometimes travelers are the most careful to stay germ-free, protecting them against the virus.

In an effort to keep passengers healthy, the UIC Medical Center at O’Hare, a joint effort between the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Chicago Department of Aviation, offers flu vaccinations. The center is located in Terminal 2, but during fall and early winter, UIC kiosks in Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 also offer the shots. The vaccination costs $35 for passengers and $25 for O’Hare employees.

Hand sanitizers are also available throughout both O’Hare and Midway airports, especially in high-traffic areas. Custodians at the airports clean frequently touched surfaces, such as escalator hand rails and restroom surfaces.

The Chicago Department of Aviation also sponsors annual Safety, Health and Wellness Expos for employees at both O’Hare and Midway, said Karen Pride, director of media relations for the Department of Aviation.

Parada and Pride shared some tips to stay healthy this flu season:
• Wash your hands frequently
• Avoid people who are already sick
• Cough or sneeze into your sleeve instead of your hand
• Get plenty of rest and eat healthy, especially before traveling
• Get the flu shot

Parada said that just about everyone, except those under six months and those who are allergic to the ingredients, should get the flu vaccination. This year’s dose will protect against H1N1, an influenza B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus and H3N2, a new virus circulating this year.

While the effectiveness of the shots depends on how well the chosen strains in the vaccine match up with the actual circulating strains, they are often about 70% beneficial, said Parada.

Parada also urged all health-care workers to get the vaccine. Seeing sick patients puts workers at high risk for the flu and he said they have a responsibility to avoid spreading germs to other patients.

“My message to health-care providers is the get with the program,” Parada said.