As the holiday season rapidly approaches, there are many preventive and safety measures that can be taken to ensure a safe, healthy and joyous holiday. This season unfortunately begins cold and flu season. The colder outside conditions that can cause cold related dangers makes for more crowded indoor activities thus predisposing people to the easier transmission of bacteria and viruses. The easiest way to avoid influenza and pneumonia is to be vaccinated against these illnesses. Recent media attention to the avian influenza virus (bird flu) has caused much concern for travelers. While there have been isolated human cases of avian influenza, this illness appears to not be a concern for many travelers. During the last SARS outbreak a few years ago, governments and airlines had such strict quarantining measures in place that a worldwide epidemic was avoided. Should there be any human cases of avian influenza reported in people, strict quarantining measures will help prevent a large outbreak (pandemic). A vaccine against avian influenza virus is currently under development and there are several antiviral medications like oseltamivir that appear to have some effect on treating this illness. Proper avoidance measures along with frequent and proper hand washing or use of instant hand sanitizers
especially after coming in contact with someone who is ill; is prudent. Eating a healthy diet and drinking a lot of liquid will also maintain one`s health. Indoor heating that drops humidity also predisposes people to upper respiratory infections and asthma, so it is wise to ask your hotel for a humidifier
or put a pot of water on the radiator to increase the humidity in the room. Using a saline nasal spray or gel
will also help prevent the nasal passages from becoming dry.

When planning a trip to NYC, if you are traveling by airplane and you have any medical conditions, please check with your doctor to find out if you have any special needs or require additional medications prior to your flight. Make sure to have only light meals, leave adequate time to get to your destination to avoid stress, and use a luggage cart or use the services of a porter to avoid muscle strains. Remember if you take medication regularly, be sure to pack adequate amounts before your trip and remember to pack an additional amount in a separate suitcase or carry-on, as luggage can get delayed or misplaced and cause undue stress if the medication needs to be replaced.

In addition, be sure to wear loose, comfortable clothing for your flight. If you have any alcohol or caffeine (coffee, tea or soda), drink limited amounts and have plenty of water. Be sure to get up and walk around the cabin a few times during the flight, use restroom facilities when needed and do some light exercises. This will help prevent fatigue, strain, urinary tract infections, jet lag and possibly travelers thromboses (blood clots) in the pelvis and legs. Also, try to take regular naps and listen to relaxing music or other relaxing in-flight entertainment. If you plan to travel from NYC, make sure that you are fully immunized and counseled about country-specific precautions (see Emporiatric Medicine section).

When it comes to safety, the most dangerous activity during this holiday season is driving. The easiest way to stay safe is to stay off the roads when possible. However, if you plan to drive to or in NYC, please be prepared. Make sure the car is in good working order and that you do regular, scheduled maintenance (this is less of an issue with rental cars). Make sure your car is supplied with jumper cables, a spare tire and a jack, reflective triangles, a help sign and a first aid kit for minor emergencies. Your car should have enough oil, anti-freeze and windshield washer fluid for the trip. You may also want to consider joining one of the automobile clubs like the Automobile Club of America. They are a very good resource for travelers. Pay full attention to the road while driving. If your child demands your attention, if you�re tired or if you need to talk on your cellular phone, please pull over to a safe place so there is no danger of an accident. Also, be aware that the law in New York State is that you must wear a hands-free device if talking on a cellular telephone when driving. In addition, take note of any medications that may interfere with your driving ability.
Whether driving yourself, or if you are a passenger in a car or taxi, please be sure to wear your seatbelt and strap your children in their safety seats every time. Remember please never drink alcohol and drive. Rely on public transportation as much as possible. New York has one of the finest public transportation systems in the world. Besides, this time of year, New York is beautiful to walk around, so go out and enjoy its many holiday sights, museums, theatre and holiday events.

In addition, as in any large city (NYC being one the safest), personal security
is also an issue and there are a few prudent, common sense personal safety tips to take note of. A very nice brochure outlining these safety tips is published by The American Hotel & Motel Association and is available from the security office in most NYC hotels.

The holiday season also is a time for family gatherings and lots of good eating. Proper food handling and preparation will avoid another of the common holiday maladies – food poisoning. Making sure that food is thawed properly and cooked thoroughly is very important. Always thaw a turkey in the refrigerator or in cold running water and never at room temperature. Make sure to cook and serve stuffing separately and make sure that everything that is in contact with the uncooked turkey is washed with hot soapy water – including hands, sink, and utensils used to stuff or touch the turkey. Also remember to refrigerate leftovers as soon as the meal is over. Much illness can be avoided again when there is proper hand washing and cleaning and preparing of food. Remember when dining out in many of NYC`s fine restaurants again make sure that your food is cooked thoroughly and served piping hot.

Women`s health issues are also important during this time of the year. Urinary tract infections (UTI�s) are also very common this time of the year as the holiday season with all the events, shopping, parties and shows can sometimes make women forget the call of nature. Not voiding when needed for lack of convenient restroom facilities, combined with not taking in adequate fluids for lack of time is a setup for a urinary tract infection. Long trips, whether traveling by air or by car, bus or train can also increase the chance of a UTI by sitting in one position for a long time and again by not going to the restroom when needed. Voiding when cued and taking in adequate fluids will greatly reduce the chance of getting a urinary tract infection.

This is also the time of year that many people turn to more amorous activity. While nobody likes to think about it, another issue is sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention. In our practice, we unfortunately treat a fair amount of STI�s this time of year. Vacation and business travel statistically are associated with an increased risk of STI transmission. Letting one`s guard down when not being home, attending holiday parties, combined with alcohol intake make travelers more at risk of acquiring STI`s. STI`s can lead to major health problems, such as infertility, blindness, brain damage, heart disease and even death if left untreated. Prudent STI prevention including abstinence and use of barrier devices will also make for a healthier and safe trip.

Lastly, given the hustle and bustle of NYC this time of year, dealing with crowds, driving in traffic, language barriers, preparing last minute holiday festivities, and doing last minute shopping, the season can also be a significant source of stress. Stress can cause muscle tension, headaches, low back pain, neck pain, insomnia and can affect blood pressure. You can avoid stress by leaving adequate amounts of time to do the things you need to do and by preparing early. Set priorities, set manageable goals, avoid stressful situations and tackle one problem at a time. To handle the physical aspect of stress, take time to relax each day, try to exercise (many hotels have adequate gyms or have affiliations with local gyms), eat regular and healthy meals, drink plenty of liquids, avoid excess alcohol, caffeine, fats and sugar; and don`t smoke. Massage therapy can also help, so go on and pamper yourself, give yourself a present and relax!

While this article may appear to be disheartening it is truly meant to avoid the most common of the situations that we see in our hotel call practice this time of year. Prudent prevention will avoid illness, discomfort and injury and allow everybody to have a truly enjoyable holiday season in New York City. Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year to all!

Page Last Updated 1/11/11