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Published on December 18, 2017

Vacations are infrequent, so don’t risk getting sickVacations are infrequent, so don’t risk getting sick

Going somewhere exciting on your next vacation? Be sure to pack the right kind of clothing for your destination, a good book for that long flight … and some tissues and cold medicine just in case you get a bad case of “leisure sickness.”

Leisure sickness is a real thing and not just a bit of bad luck, according to a 2002 Dutch study, which defined it as “the condition of developing symptoms of sickness during weekends and/or vacations.”

Leisure sickness isn’t a unique disease, but more a group of ordinary illnesses that can nab us when we’re in vacation mode. Things like a cold, the flu or stomach distress, said Mamdouh Riad, MD, a specialist in internal medicine who is based in Hyannis. The risk factors can come into play as soon as you walk onto a plane.

“Being on an airplane in crowded, close quarters where there’s not a lot of air circulation, patients can catch viruses and respiratory symptoms,” he said.

Avoiding contact with people who are sick is the best strategy, he said. Minimizing jet lag can also help get your trip off to a good start.

“Studies have shown that melatonin, which is an over-the-counter natural product, can help with jet lag,” he said. “Lack of sleep can be a factor in reducing our immune status.”

Another vacation saboteur is trying to do extra work before you leave.

“That kind of stress can reduce the immune system and leave you vulnerable to diseases,” he said. “Stress in and of itself can cause a change in our ability to fight illnesses.”

If you’re concerned about food safety, Dr. Riad said you can ask your doctor to give you a prescription in case you get sick with diarrhea or gastroenteritis.

Staying Healthy

Once you’ve reached your destination, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of leisure sickness.

“Things you can do include basic hygiene, like washing your hands frequently and keeping them away from your nose and your mouth,” he said. “Good sleep habits and exercise strengthen the immune system.”

Resist the urge to party all day and all night, as this can set you up for illness.

“Sometimes people overdo it with alcohol on vacation and that’s not a good idea. Moderation is always helpful. Even on your vacation, you don’t have to overdo anything,” he said

Some people like to chill on the beach, and that’s OK, as long as you use sunscreen and follow other sun safety tips.

But if you’re the type who likes to pack your days with non-stop sightseeing, shopping and other activities, consider building some downtime into your schedule. A hyperactive vacation will end up making you feel run down when you should be recharging your batteries, Dr. Riad said.

“Overdoing it and subjecting oneself to stress and rushing makes us vulnerable and reduces our immune system. It’s important to have a vacation where you rest.”