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Avoiding the flu during holiday travel

The American Automobile Association predicts that over the holidays 48.5 million Americans will travel by car and 8.3 million will take airplane trips.  So,  how do you keep yourself safe from the flu bug?  NBC's Robert Bazell reports.
/ Source: NBC News

Kelly and Paul Watzka worried about the flu for weeks before their holiday trip with their sons.  "We tried to get our kids flu shots before we left but there were no vaccines available," said Kelly.

You can catch the flu during any kind of travel. But on airplanes, according to one traveler:  "There's a lot of people in there and you're confined into one area."

How great is the danger of catching flu during an airplane trip? Dr. Wallace Carter of New York Presbyterian Hospital said, "Certainly there's a risk but I don't think it's a risk worth canceling travel plans and holiday plans."

Dr. Carter says people at very high risk of complications from the flu who did not get a flu shot might want to reconsider their trip.  For everyone else the standard rules of hygiene apply. 

Since the virus can survive on surfaces for hours -- wash your hands as often as possible. If you can't get to soap and water use a commercial hand washing preparation. Studies show these are highly effective at killing influenza and other viruses.

What about the air you breathe on planes? It passes though the same type of filters used in operating rooms - highly effective at keeping viruses from circulating.

But the filtration does not protect you from nearby passengers, rude enough to not cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. "Your greatest risk is going to be in very close proximity with somebody that, if you will, kind of showers your airspace with their virus," added Dr. Carter.

The expert advice is try to change seats and don't be shy about complaining if you can't. It might allow you to end your trip as healthy as you were when you started.