Respiratory infections plague travellers. What you can do to manage the risk
Respiratory infections are the number one reason why returning travellers seek medical help. The US center for disease control (CDC) estimates the rate of respiratory infections among all travellers at 20%, making them almost as frequent as travellers´ diarrhea. The top 10 busiest airports in the world alone transport about 720million travellers each year. You do the math!
The most frequent cause of respiratory infections in travellers are of viral origin. Most notable are rhinoviruses that cause common cold, influenza and parainfluenza viruses.
Influenza viruses are particularly significant to public health. According to statistics from the World Health Organization , the global infection rate of seasonal Influenza is estimated at 5%-10% for adults and 20%-30% for children, resulting in about 3-5 million cases of severe illness per year, and many fatalities. This makes influenza one of the most significant diseases known to mankind.
Due to this significance, influenza needs to be looked at more closely.
Modes of infection for Influenza:
Influenza infection can occur directly through droplets loaded with viruses and expelled during sneezing and coughing, or indirectly when people touch surfaces on which virus-containing droplets landed and then touch their faces. Most adults are able to infect others a day before the illness breaks out, and remain infectious up to 7 days after the illness onset. Those with weaker immune systems as well as children can be infectious for more than 10 days after the illness onset.
The peak influenza season in the temperate Northern Hemisphere is December through February. In the temperate Southern Hemisphere, the peak influenza season is June through August. Travellers to tropical zones are at risk all year. Research has shown that the viruses are best transmitted in cold environments with low to moderate humidity, conditions often found during winter.
Influenza viruses are often responsible for outbreaks among travellers. Probable sites of exposure include air ports, air planes, trains, cruise ships and buses as well as shopping malls, hotels.
At particular risk of complications are young children under 2 years as well as 65years and older and pregnant women. People with other medical conditions like chronic heart, lung, liver kidney illnesses are also at risk of a severe development of the disease.
Influenza usually starts with sudden high fever, cough, muscle and joint ache, and all-round malaise. A sore throat and joint pain usually accompany the illness.
How can travellers protect themselves against respiratory infections?
National and international health organizations advice travellers to get vaccinated against flu viruses. This is certainly a recommendable course of action.
But besides this, there are natural ways in which travellers can arm themselves against influenza and other respiratory viruses.
Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra):
Many people turn to natural remedies to prevent or combat infections. Black elderberry is the most effective traditional, natural remedy against coughs, colds and flus and it has a 2000-year recorded history of medicinal use to prove it. It´s benefits are backed by dozens of scientific studies. The anthocyanins, flavonoids that give the berries their dark colour, are thought to coat, and prevent viruses from infecting new cells, and have shown to be active against bacteria and viruses that cause upper respiratory infections. They are also among the most potent antioxidants.
In one study published in the Online Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacokinetics in 2009 by researcher Fan-Kun Kong, black elderberries benefits against flu viruses was demonstrated. In this double blind, placebo controlled study, two groups of 32 patients with flu-like symptoms lasting less than 24hours were given either 4 elderberry Lozenges per day (175mg elderberry extract per lozenge), or a placebo. At 48 hours of treatment, nearly 90% of the elderberry group were either symptom free or had only mild symptoms. The placebo group demonstrated no improvement of symptoms.
Elderberry´s efficacy against upper respiratory infections among travellers was also demonstrated in a study at the Griffith University in Australia. The initial results were presented in 2015.
For this double blind, placebo controlled study directed by Associate Professor Evelin Tiralongo, 312 long haul flight travellers flying from Australia to an overseas destination were recruited.
They received 600-900 mg per day (2 to 3 capsules) of a proprietary membrane enrichened elderberry formula provided by Iprona AG. Travellers who had received the elderberry extract tended to have less infections. Among participants who had contracted a cold, those who had received the elderberry formula were, on average, symptom-free 2 days earlier than those in the placebo group. The severity of the illness was also significantly less in the elderberry group compared to the placebo group.
These are only two out of many dozens of studies showing elderberries benefits against respiratory infections.
Ideally, Elderberry lozenges, or capsules or syrups, should be taken regularly 2 days before, during and after 2 days after travel, and on first sign of an infection.
It is also advisable to take precautionary measures and start giving children elderberry lozenges or syrups a few days before they return to school from holidays, and continue through the first week.
And remember to call off your travel plans if you feel sick, for your own, and the safety of other travellers. Maintain strict hygiene when contact with others cannot be avoided, to minimize risk of the infection spreading.