Thanksgiving is known as the official kick-off of the holiday season, beginning with a festive dinner and Black Friday shopping. However, Thanksgiving also marks the first wave of holiday travel, with millions of Americans traveling cross-country to visit relatives a month before they will set off again for Christmas, New Year’s and other winter celebrations. Because of this, some experts are concerned that the number of cases of the flu and enterovirus-D68 will increase, causing many health officials to encourage travelers to pay attention to their health this holiday season.
Many experts have been apprehensive about the fall and winter of 2014 for months: commonly known as “flu season,” this period usually sees a high number of influenza cases. Influenza is, of course, a potentially deadly disease characterized by fever, sore throat, fatigue and nausea.
This year, experts’ concerns are compounded by a number of reports which showed that few people, particularly adults, have received flu vaccinations. To make matters worse, the flu and other seasonal viruses are believed to be linked to a number of severe cases of enterovirus-D68, or EV-D68. While normally a mild condition which primarily affects children, this year’s strain also caused severe respiratory complications and paralysis. But despite reports that the number of cases is decreasing, EV-D68 is still present in a number of states, including Montana, and was recently reported in Norway.
Like the flu, the symptoms of EV-D68 include a fever, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and body aches; all reported cases thus far have developed in patients 24 years old or younger. But while both viruses sound relatively commonplace, the consequences of both can be serious: influenza can be deadly, especially when contracted by someone very young or elderly, and EV-D68 has been linked to several deaths, as well. For this reason, doctors are encouraging people to get vaccinated against the flu and take proper care of themselves this holiday season, particularly if they plan to travel.
The steps to prevent sickness this holiday season are relatively simple. Doctors recommend getting a flu vaccination and washing your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water, especially if you plan to spend time in public, crowded areas like airports. If sickness develops, treat the symptoms immediately with over-the-counter medication and rest. However, if you or a loved one has difficulty breathing or symptoms worsen, seek out medical care immediately: you may be at risk of some of the more serious side effects of influenza or EV-D68.