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Travel During Flu Season

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

With all of the continuous news surrounding swine flu (H1N1) and the upcoming seasonal flu season, I am getting a lot of questions about travel plans. We all know it is always best to book flights early to get the best deals on tickets, so many families are starting to plan for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. With that in mind, they are asking if they should be travelling with their children. In my opinion, we all must continue our lives, even in the face of flu viruses, and a trip for a toddler to see his/her grandparents is important for everyone.

We should all make our plans and make those plane reservations for trips to the mountains, the beach or even overseas, wherever you are fortunate enough to get to go. While travelling everyone needs to practice good hand washing and cough hygiene and be prepared to change plans if a family member is ill. Travelling while being acutely ill and running a fever is only exposing everyone else to you or your child’s illness and seems somewhat selfish. None of us should be travelling within 24 hours of having  a fever (that means without the benefit of fever reducing medications), and isolating a child or parent for several days will be better for everyone, than travelling while sick. Think of the greater good!

With that being said, I am not a proponent of a newborn under the age of two months traveling, unless out of necessity. I have always been fairly conservative about exposing a baby to crowds and closed in spaces (malls, movies, restaurants) and airplanes certainly fit that description. With the uncertainty of this year’s flu season it seems like a really good year to stay put. A newborn’s immune system is still fragile, and the more often a newborn is exposed to large groups of people, the better chance they have of getting sick in the first six to 12 weeks of life. This must have been what was called “confinement” in the olden days. Staying home and enjoying the simplicity of life, with the excuse, “I have a newborn baby” gets you out of so many invitations and situations. This is probably the only time that you can get away with that line, as after several months  the realities of work, family commitments, and day-to-day living return and often that means with baby in tow. We all do what we have to do, but if you don’t have to take your newborn baby on a flight this holiday season, I would not. I also know that not everyone will abide by the “Do Not Travel While Sick” mantra, and exposure to illness is not uncommon during airline travel. There is not a way to sit three to six feet from another person on a plane! This is probably the time to have family come to you, and to make sure that they have all had their seasonal flu vaccines, and when available, the swine flu vaccine.

I don’t have a crystal ball to see how this fall/winter season is going to unfold, but I do know that a sick infant has a better chance of ending up in the hospital if they develop a flu-like illness. The holidays will be a happier for all, if infants stay close to home and leave the travel to those with older children.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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