How to keep sickness away from your vacation

With the school year over and warm weather here, vacation season is coming. Whether you’re seeing new places or revisiting a familiar favorite, disconnecting from work and spending time with friends and family allows most people to come back to work feeling fresher and more productive.

And it’s important to take that time. According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review article, a U.S. Travel Association study found that 95 percent of people surveyed claimed using their paid time off was very important. And yet more than half of Americans (55 percent) left vacation days unused, which equates to 658 million unused vacation days.

But even if you take your vacation, what happens if you spend the time sick?

Smart Business spoke with Melinda L. Schriver, senior director of Telehealth Strategic Solutions at UPMC Health Plan, about staying healthy on your vacation.

How can people avoid getting sick on vacation time?

No one wants to get sick during vacation, but it happens. Here’s what you need to know to prevent or minimize the impact of a medical issue on your precious time off:

  • If you take medication, make sure to bring enough to last the entire trip. Pack medications in your purse or carry-on bag; do not put them in checked luggage.
  • If any of your medications are controlled or injectable substances, carry a letter from the prescribing physician on official letterhead.
  • If you wear glasses, pack a spare pair. You may also want to take a copy of the lens prescription just in case.
  • Pack a travel health kit that includes pain relief, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, Band-Aids, antiseptic cream, and drugs for an upset stomach and motion sickness. For international travel, research what you should and should not eat and drink. You may need to stick to bottled water and avoid foods that haven’t been cooked or peeled.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen (with an SPF of at least 30) and insect repellant (if you’ll need them).
  • To prevent catching a cold while airborne, bring your own disinfecting wipes and wipe off the tray and armrests. Wash your hands often and stay hydrated. Get up and move around every hour or two.
  • If you’re driving to your destination, make sure you’re well rested. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, driving while drowsy is a contributing factor in 72,000 accidents annually. Switch drivers, if possible, every few hours.

How does the stress of getting ready impact your immune system?

If you worked late hours tying up loose ends before a trip, that stress can shift your immune system into high gear. Once your stress levels drop, your immune system may also downshift and leave you exposed to pathogens. Try to keep everything in perspective. A recent University of Chicago study found that people experienced similar levels of enjoyment on their vacation regardless of whether they completed all their work first.

What if you do get sick?

Food poisoning, sunburn and sinus infections can happen despite the most careful planning. If someone you’re traveling with needs treatment for a nonemergency medical condition, telemedicine providers can address some of the most common issues through a virtual visit via smartphone, tablet or computer. Providers can even prescribe medicine when necessary. Plus, telemedicine services mean you won’t waste time trying to find an urgent care clinic or an emergency room when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings.

Many insurance companies cover telemedicine. The cost is often less than an urgent care or emergency room visit. Be sure to find out the details of your plan’s coverage before you go. For example, UPMC Health Plan covers its members when traveling through nationwide virtual urgent care visits, a large national urgent care network, a robust extended network, emergency care coverage and a growing telemedicine program.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan