Travel, IBD, and Coronavirus - What We Should Know

This article was written on February 29, 2020, and last updated March 2. Further developments in what we know about the coronavirus are continuously emerging.

It’s scary times out there for people with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis seeing this new virus popping up across the globe, right? Personally, it makes the idea of traveling during an already active flu season feel even less appealing. Spring Break is coming up. And before we know it, the end of the school year and summer vacation will be upon us. So, it’s understandable if you have questions, like “Is it safe to travel with Crohn’s and coronavirus out there?”

The short answer, for now, is exercise caution but don’t stop living your life. Crohn's and colitis leave us at a higher risk than the average person for catching viruses like the flu. The best thing you can do is wash your hands well for at least 20 seconds.1

Admittedly, having Crohn’s disease and using a biologic, I’m more than hyperaware of my surroundings. I definitely get wary of seeing someone, within my personal space bubble, who is coughing or sneezing. Or worse yet, both! I get creeped out catching people not covering their mouth and nose. And I’ve been known to shoot these people the stink eye, as well.

Data around the flu and coronavirus

Data shows the flu has a .1% mortality rate. Currently, the novel coronavirus has a 2% mortality rate, which is a 20% increase in mortality. That is fear-inducing. But before you let fear get the best of you here is some food for thought.

Vox, an online news website, published a piece by two researchers from the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. They provide a reassuring explanation of why the number is so high currently. At the moment, we can’t factor in undiagnosed people infected with the novel coronavirus who have mild to no symptoms. This population would help drop that mortality rate percentage. They also provide a real-life example using data from the early-to-late H1N1 days. I left the article feeling a little more reassured.2

Concerns about traveling with Crohn's disease

I’m booked to travel a few times from April through May. I'd be lying if I said, "I'm not concerned." Thankfully, I am able to tolerate a flu shot. If it can help prevent catching certain strains of the flu, it’s better than nothing, right? We are about two months out from manufacturers to run a phase 1 trial of a novel coronavirus vaccine. I’m just trying to stack the odds in my favor as best as possible.

As for future travel decisions, I am checking the CDC website regularly for updates on travel in the United States. I will make cancelation determinations closer to the travel dates. Traveling out of the country? There’s a link on the page for international information, as well.

Coronavirus prevention while traveling with Crohn's

So, here is my quick tips list for traveling while on a biologic with IBD and germs, because germs are everywhere. Just like ghosts. I’m kidding about the ghost part, maybe.

  • Before you travel, talk to your specialist or primary care practitioner to discuss concerns. They most likely will offer a flu shot if you haven't gotten one yet. If you had one earlier in the year, can’t hurt to discuss a flu booster.
  • Pack hand sanitizer, a travel-sized antibacterial soap, and antibacterial wipes for surfaces in your carry-on bag. I mention bringing antibacterial soap, as not all bathrooms you encounter while traveling will have good soap; let alone any soap. I also use this in my hotel room, as most hotels only provide a facial bar soap situation.
  • Aside from washing your hands regularly, sanitizing surfaces you will come in contact with is really important. The surfaces I sanitize are the plane seat, headrest, and armrests, as well as the plane seatbelt. I usually use a new wipe to go over the seatback tray, its knob, and then drop it to sanitize the tray top as well as the arms. When I get to the hotel, I’ll sanitize all surfaces there such as the bathroom fixtures and countertops. Door and cabinetry knobs, I hit them too. I also wipe down the nightstands, phone, TV remote and light switches.
  • Designate two outfits for travel days and pack a plastic bag to put your laundry in before repacking the suitcase. I also pack an outfit or two that I only wear in my hotel room. The minute I get back into my hotel room, I change into these lounging clothes. I try not to bring germs from the outside into the bed. I do this at home, too.

Practice self-care while you’re away from home

While traveling, and living with an IBD, it’s very easy to try to do all the things until you’re running on fumes. Hydration, proper nutrition, and good sleep are crucial to help keep your body going in a healthy manner. I usually check to see if my hotel has a bathtub in the rooms. If there’s a tub, I’ll pack small bath bombs, Epsom Salt, or travel-size bubble bath. I also sanitize the tub, because I’m a monster.

All in all, keep informed and watch the CDC website for updates.

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