Thursday, September 20, 2012

Staying Healthy When You Travel

My column this week in the Globe and Mail takes a look at a couple of studies on keeping elite athletes healthy when they travel -- with conclusions that are relevant to all of us.
When Norway’s Olympic athletes boarded flights to Vancouver in 2010, they were given a long list of instructions on how to avoid getting sick – strategies like using disinfectant hand gel, avoiding shaking hands with fans, and even covering hotel carpets with plastic upon arrival. [...]
The result: The incidence of illness on the Norwegian team during the Vancouver Games was cut to less than one-third of its rate during the 2006 Olympics in Turin, according to a post-Olympic report published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Only one medal contender was affected in Vancouver, compared to six in Turin, and Norway increased its gold-medal haul from two to nine. [READ ON...]

The key -- and somewhat surprising -- conclusion of the research is that long-haul flights, on their own, don't raise your susceptibility to illness. Instead, travel bugs are more likely picked up at the destination you're visiting. That's backed up by a recent study (which I blogged about last month) that monitored rugby players flying between South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand: the players were more likely to get sick after flying to distant destinations, but had no elevated illness rate after identical-length flights back home.
There's some irony to the timing of this column: I just returned from a trip to Europe, and I've been quite seriously ill since I got back. Given that I started feeling terrible the day I arrived home, I immediately assumed it was a bug I'd picked up on the flight. The subsequent progression of the illness, however, suggests that it's actually giardiasis -- which typically has an incubation period of about a week, meaning that I did pick it up when I was in Europe, rather than on the trip home. I guess I should read (and believe) my own columns!

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