Are you sure its okay for you to travel with the Corona Virus outbreak? The question, asked by a loved one, should not irritate me so, yet, it does. See, the problem isn’t the question. It’s the fact that this is the fifth person to ask me this question about my upcoming cruise vacation. To be completely honest, until my husband (concerned loved on number one) asked me, I hadn’t even considered it. Am I worried about corona virus? Sure, I guess so, it’s a virus, I avoid all of those like the plague they are.
As someone who’s been on immune suppressing medications for a few years now, I’ve more than a few tricks up my sleeve for avoiding germs, viral and bacterial. Am I specifically going to be on guard for corona virus on vacation? Nope, I won’t even be thinking about it. Why? Three really good reasons, first, I already do all of the things to avoid germs. Second, I am not traveling to or near any of the areas the CDC is recommending caution in. Third, I believe in the law of attraction, the secret, the old adage that states “be careful what you wish for”. So, no, I won’t be worried about corona virus while vacationing, I’ll be far too busy enjoying the moments as they come. Before you (or any of my loved ones reading this) freak out and tell me I am taking too big a risk, let me reassure you, that does not mean I will be going on vacation unprotected from all the flus, colds, and infections floating around out there.
The fact is, despite the media attention it has gotten, corona virus is no more dangerous to someone like me than the common cold. Any bacterial or viral infection can get out of hand when you are on immune suppressing medications. Biologics and DMARDs, while helpful for control of many autoimmune diseases, leave patients vulnerable to a host of issues, as immune function is intentionally suppressed. Great for reducing the attack on our own bodies, equally great at reducing our ability to fight infections. It’s one of those double-edged swords they speak of. Helpful in the battle, but it might cut you on the back swing.
So, what’s a girl with a double-edged sword on board that might let the bugs in to do? My well-intentioned husband’s suggestion to ditch the sword (stop medication for my trip) might seem like the logical solution. I’ll admit, I considered it. The reality is, every single one of those medications takes time to build up to an effective level in your system. They take just as long to stop being effective. Stopping medication before vacation, might slightly increase my body’s ability to stop incoming germs. It will definitely increase my disease activity and symptoms. So, the choices are continue meds and maybe get sick, or stop them, definitely feel terrible and possibly do more long term damage. When offered the choice between a for sure bad time and a good time with maybe a little risk involved, I’m going to roll those dice every time. What can I say, I’m a gambler at heart. After all nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
I’m also very cautious by nature. If I’m rolling the dice, you can bet your ass I’ve assessed the risks. So, while I hadn’t considered corona virus specifically before my husband asked about it, I had already spent a lot of time planning my strategy to avoid vacation germs, because the world is full of bugs, and I am not planning to bring any of them home with me. Over the years, I’ve developed a few good germ avoidance habits. I’ll be using those, plus a few brilliant suggestions I got from fellow RA Warriors after the conversation with hubby, to stay germ free.
1. Wash, wash , wash your hands– If you sang that line, congrats on remembering the age old preschool and kindergarten song. There is a reason we spend so much time and energy teaching kids good hand washing habits. The first line of defense against most of the germs in our world is washing your hands, especially before touching your food or face. I really cannot stress this one enough. If you cannot wash them, use hand sanitizer. Available in a variety of travel sized options, there is no reason you can’t always have hand sanitizer with you.
2. Hands off– Seriously, if you don’t have to touch it, don’t. Many germs can survive for a long time on surfaces, not touching them is clearly a great way to avoid them. Especially avoid touching handrails, countertops, and other areas that many people touch. This goes double for anything small kids are likely to be all over. Nothing spreads germs like the touch and taste it all curiosity of small children. Unless you brought them with you, avoid kids like they carry the plague.
If you must touch something, get creative. I’ve mastered pushing elevator door buttons with my elbow, using a forearm and one foot to open a door, you’d be surprised what you can do without using your hands. Get creative, if you can’t find a creative solution, sanitize your hands afterward.
3. Wear a mask– I know, you don’t want to look like a weirdo, I get it. But you also don’t want what the person hacking behind you on that 3-hour flight has, so mask up! Wearing a mask in areas where you will be sharing space and air with many strangers is a great defense against catching whatever they brought on board. There are thousands of options out there, find a reusable mask in a pattern that speaks to you and wear that thing with pride.
4. Use essential oils– This might sound a bit odd if you don’t have any experience with essential oils, but essential oils can create a good barrier to germs. There are many oils that are antibacterial, antifungal, and even antiviral. Some of those, are also great at defending against airborne microbes. Many blends are available on the market to help ward off sickness, Thieves’ oil, used by doctors in the 1400’s to avoid the bubonic plague is perhaps the oldest and best known of these blends. Using a blend like thieves’ oil, or on guard (my barrier oil of choice) in combination with a mask is a great defense against airborne germs.
5. Fortify yourself– No, I’m not suggesting you construct a portable fort or don a suit of armor. I do think you should go into the world well protected from the dangers. Being sure you are properly nourished can go a long way when it comes to preventing colds and flus. Don’t use immune boosting supplements like Emergen-C or Airborne, they cause immune system overstimulation in autoimmune patients.
DO be sure you are getting plenty of Vitamins D, C, B6, Magnesium, and Zinc. These are all essential for proper immune system function and defending against colds, flus and infections. All but Vitamin C have also been identified as beneficial to patients with inflammatory disorders, as they are vital to proper inflammatory regulation. Eat a well-balanced diet, if you suspect you have nutrition gaps, check with your doctor and consider adding a supplement to your routine. Being sure your immune system has all the nutrients it needs to ward off infection is a good way to stay healthy, no matter what is going around.
A word about herbs- When it comes to herbs and autoimmune disease, all I can really say is, it’s complicated. There are many wonderfully helpful herbs that I use to treat and manage various symptoms, including many ra symptoms. But, when it comes to herbs for immune boosting, most of them essentially do the job too well. Neither echinacea nor elderberry, the two best known herbs for warding off cold and flu germs, are recommending for those with autoimmune conditions. Thyme has been recommended as an herb with antimicrobial properties, that does not overstimulate the immune system. An experienced herbalist, who works with people with autoimmune diseases, should be consulted if you are interested in using herbs for cold and flu prevention.
6. Sanitize your spaces– Sanitizing wipes are a great item to toss in your carry-on bag. Use them to wipe down anything you must touch like airplane arm rests and tray tables. Hit up all the surfaces in your home away from home, whether that’s a hotel room, Airbnb, or any other vacation rental. Avoid whatever the last guests may have left behind. A tip straight from the RA group poll, grab a can of Lysol to spray bedding, furniture and other soft objects in your hotel room or cabin. You’re going to want a sanctuary where you can let your guard down a bit.
7. Get plenty of rest– Somewhat easier said than done when on vacation, so much to see, so little time. Getting good rest is still an important part of staying healthy. Build some down time into the itinerary. Want to catch that midnight show? Plan a nap in the afternoon so you can enjoy late nights without losing sleep. Try to get plenty of sleep leading up to the trip, so you are well-rested at the start.
8. Drink plenty of water– This one feels like it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, drink water, every day, plenty of it, zero excuses. Essential for all aspects of our health, water is key to preventing colds and flus as well. It keeps our bodies hydrated, cells functioning well, and systems cleaned out. Speaking of cleaned out systems though, do beware what kind of water you drink. There are thousands of water born microbes in the world, especially in warmer vacation destinations. Avoid tap water and stick to the bottle, just to be on the safe side.
Staying germ free while on vacation may take a bit of preparation and a few extra precautions, but they will all be worth it when you return home bursting with memories and free from hitchhiking germs. Go prepared to enjoy a sickness free vacation. For those of you still worried about Coronavirus specifically, I did check the CDC recommendations for avoiding this particular plague, every precaution was already on the list.
What do you do to avoid getting sick on vacation? Is there something missing from the list? Drop your best tips in the comments. If you found this article helpful, hit that like button!