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Health, Science & Environment

Expert tips to stay healthy during summer travel and festival season

A man blows his nose while sitting next a swimming poll with a cup of tea.
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It's summertime, but that doesn’t mean that respiratory viruses like cold and flu have gone away. Summer bugs and illnesses are out there – and can be easy to catch while traveling or attending concerts and festivals.

Dr. Barbara Bawer, clinical assistant professor of family and community medicine at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, talked with WOSU about how to stay healthy this summer.

Allie Vugrincic: When I think of respiratory illnesses like the flu in the cold, I think of the winter. How big of an issue are summer sicknesses and what should people be looking out for?

Dr. Barbara Bawer: Yeah. So, while you are correct, typically those things do occur primarily in the winter months, it doesn't mean that you can't get the cold or the flu the rest of the year.

And, you know, sometimes you can see this in social media or out there in the public as known as kind of “festival flu” or “festival colds.” And that's because we go to summer festivals. You're still around a lot of people in those instances, right? who are, possibly coughing, sneezing and everyone sort of grouped close together, you know, possibly sharing things like food items, drink items.

It creates this sort of – another perfect environment for the spread of, you know, cold and flu like symptoms as well as those viruses.

Allie Vugrincic: So, cold and flu are obviously, always out there. Are there any new bugs that we should be watching out for right now?

Dr. Barbara Bawer: So, they're not specifically any new bugs. I will say, there's always mutations or variations to all these different kind of small little viruses.

Another big one that maybe people don't think of, or they think of it as kind of a “cruise ship virus” is the norovirus. It is usually obtained through contaminated food or water. This can happen when you're on hiking trips or camping trips, when maybe you don't have clean supplies, or there is someone who's sick in your trip. And then this isn't really a virus, but, ticks – ticks are obviously a big, big problem. And if anything, they're becoming more of an issue.

As climate change occurs and, you know, there's warmer environments and more humid environments around the country. And so those are probably the big things to worry about.

Allie Vugrincic: We certainly talk about COVID less now than we used to, but that's not gone either. The last few summers have seen some new COVID variants. Are we seeing any of those this year?

Dr. Barbara Bawer: Yes. So again, just like any virus, COVID is a virus. And so, it's going to continue to mutate. You know, are a lot of people dying from it like they did with those initial strains? No. But I will say that people are still dying from it, especially if you have, multiple medical problems or other conditions that can increase your risk if you're immunocompromised in any way.

Allie Vugrincic: I'm also curious about masks. The CDC and the World Health both have some vague guidance that says you can wear a mask if you feel sick or if you're traveling. Are there situations where people should still be wearing them?

Dr. Barbara Bawer: Yes. So, while yes, the spread of COVID and again, with the variants right now out there that maybe are a little less concerning – you know, there's no more strict criteria on wearing the mask.

We still recommend (it), though, that if you're going to be certainly in a medical environment of any kind, so a hospital or even your doctor's office, certainly music festivals would be ideal just because you're around other people or anywhere where you're going to be on an enclosed space.

So, airplanes, 100%, you're breathing very similar circulating air, even though there are some filters. People are also traveling from other countries. And so, you're sort of passing all kinds of germs just in the airport environment. And during travel, your body is also immune compromised. And that's because, you know, stress, changing time zones, lack of sleep.

Allie Vugrincic: Is there anything else that people should know if they're traveling, say, this weekend?

Dr. Barbara Bawer: Really, it's all about being vigilant. So, washing your hands, being smart. If someone's coughing or sneezing around you, go away. Get a step away from that area. It's not to say you have to live your life in fear at all times, but the more you can help yourself, obviously minimize the exposure to these things, the better off you'll be.

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Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.