Flu season is here and if you spend time on planes or in airports, it’s a good idea to get a flu shot.
No time for that?
Not if you’ve got a few extra moments to stop by one of these airport clinics:
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) is partnering with the Cleveland Department of Public Health and offering complimentary flu shots post-security at Gate C2 on November 2 and November 17 from 8 a.m. to noon, local time.
At O’Hare International Airport, travelers can stop in for a flu shot at the O’Hare Medical Clinic (773-894-5100; Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) post-security, in Terminal 2 near the “Kids on the Fly” play area.
To make it even easier to get your flu shot on the fly, the O’Hare clinic operates temporary flu shot kiosks in concourse corridors in Terminals 1 and 3.
At San Francisco International Airport, flu shots are available at the SFO Medical Clinic, (650-821-5600; Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) in the International Terminal Main Hall, pre-security. (Validated parking is offered as well.)
You can also get a flu shot at the McCarran Medical Clinic and Pharmacy in McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (702-261-6707; Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday and Friday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
The LAS clinic is located in Terminal 1 (pre-security, near the A/B gates, next to the Wells Fargo bank) and, among other services, can help with hangover relief.
In a pinch, you can also get a flu shot at a clinic located nearby an airport terminal, including the 24-hour Reliant Immediate Care (310-215-6020), a short walk from Los Angeles International Airport and at New York’s JFK International Airport, where complimentary shuttle service is offered to JFK Advanced Medical P.C., (718-656-9500) which is also open 24 hours a day.
All that sneezing and sniffling around you on airplanes and in airports is a sure sign that flu season is in full swing. And a sure sign that you should get a flu shot.
Here are some of the airports where busy fliers can take care of that task, on the fly:
At Chicago O’Hare Airport, the O’Hare Medical Clinic in Terminal 2 offers flu shots and immunizations (and more) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost: $30; most insurance accepted. There’s also a flu shot kiosk in Terminal 3 open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends.
The SFO Medical Clinicat San Francisco International Airport is located in the International Terminal Main Hall, on the Boarding Area A side, and is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (650-821-5600). Flu shots are $32.
At Los Angeles International Airport, Reliant Immediate Care is on airport property, a short walk from the terminals. This 24-hour clinic is offering flu shots for $25 (310-215-6020).
At JFK International Airport and Newark Liberty International airports, flu shots are available at the Airport Medical Offices, each located on airport property and accessible via shuttles. At Newark (973-643-8383), flu shots are $25. Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Take the P6 Shuttle to Stop 4. At JFK (718-244-1644), flu shots are $20. Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Take the Q11 city bus to Stop 11 or the AirTrain to Federal Circle and call for a pick-up.
(My story about where to get your flu shot at the airport first appeared on USA TODAY)
If you’ll be among the 24 million people expected to be in an airport and on a plane this Thanksgiving holiday period, Charles Gerba, the University of Arizona microbiology professor known as “Dr. Germ,” has some important travel advice for you: Pack light and carry hand sanitizer.
Gerba, whose travel souvenirs often include test swabs from airplane lavatories, has identified the three germiest spots on airplanes — toilets, tray tables and the latches on overhead bins.
He’s found the norovirus, the influenza virus, diarrhea and MRSA on airplane tray tables, which he says are rarely disinfected. The latches on overhead bins also get “lots of touching, but no cleaning.”
Gerba says an average of 50 people (up to 75 on budget airlines) use the lavatory each flight and warns that even if everyone bothered to wash their hands before exiting, this is the ickiest spot on a plane. “The tap water shuts off when you try to wash your hands and the sink is too small for people with large hands,” he said. Gerba has found that the lavatory exit door on airplanes usually has E. coli on it after a long flight.
He advises travelers to use hand sanitizer to clean their hands after leaving the lavatory or, better yet, “hold it if you can.”
But don’t assume you’ll find complete relief once you make it to the terminal.
“If airplanes are number one, (lavatories at) airports are number two,” said Gerba. He used to rank gas station restrooms high on this list, but has noticed that many service stations no longer even have restrooms available for customers.
Airport restrooms by busy gates can get messy quickly during high-traffic times, but many airports put a high priority on trying to keep those areas clean.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport has attendants in most restrooms that have received high marks (and a few YouTube video posts) for their attentiveness and good humor. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has restroom attendants stationed inside all women’s restrooms in the public areas and an attendant who floats between two assigned men’s restrooms. The assignment: “Clean, restock supplies and make sure everything is serviceable,” said ATL spokesperson DeAllous Smith.
At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, QR codes are posted in the restrooms encouraging customers to notify airport officials if something needs attention. And on its website, the airport outlines the custodial staff’s restroom routine:
“Depending on the traffic in the various restrooms, they are given one to two thorough cleanings during the first and second shift. This includes wiping off the fixtures, mopping the floors and cleaning the mirrors, Walters said. Then, every 30 to 45 minutes, staff re-enters the restrooms to check the floors, dispensers, and trash. During the night, a deep cleaning is performed which includes scrubbing the fixtures, walls, and floorsâ?¦.”
The PHX custodial staff doesn’t just clean restrooms, it keeps a list of fun facts about restrooms supplies, reporting that more than 32,000 miles of toilet tissue and close to 15,000 miles of paper towels are used in the restrooms annually, along with more than 6,000 gallons of hand soap.
Gerba has praise for the handy gadget that automatically changes the toilet seat covers in bathrooms at Chicago O’Hare, but adds that “the fear of butt-borne diseases is overrated.”
Even the cleanest airport bathroom can be no defense against catching the flu while traveling this time of year.
“Anytime there are a lot of people in a small area, such as on a bus, in a train station, in the airport or on an airplane, there’s a lot of coughing, sneezing and touching things and an increased chance for spreading germs around,” says John Zautcke, medical director of the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical Clinic at O’Hare Airport.
Zautcke recommends that travelers wash their hands often, try to steer clear of the most crowded areas of airports, and get a flu shot before hitting the road.
Busy travelers who don’t have time to get a flu shot at home can take care of that task before or between flights at some airports.
Through the end of the year, flu shots ($30; pertussis/whooping cough and pneumonia shots also available) are being offered at the O’Hare Medical Clinic center and at several kiosks in the terminals.
Flu shots ($35; cash only) are also available at the AeroClinic in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s Main Terminal (Atrium Level 3) and for $25 at both the Carehere! Walk-in Clinic and Wellness Store (Concourse C) at Nashville International Airport and the Airport Health Station (Ticket Lobby “B”) at Memphis International Airport.
The SFO Medical Clinic in the Departures/Ticketing Level of the International Terminal Main Hall (A side) has flu shots available for $30. In Los Angeles, Reliant Immediate Care, near the entrance to Los Angeles International Airport is offering flu shots for $25, and in New York, flu shots are available at the Airport Medical Offices at John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty International Airport (outside the terminals, but on airport property) as well.
“People are saying it’s a mild flu season,” said O’Hare’s John Zautcke, “But the flu season hasn’t really hit, so get the vaccine while the supply is plentiful.”
Charles Gerba (Dr. Germ) agrees. “If you’re at an airport and you have the opportunity, get in line.”
(My story about germs on airplanes and in airports first appeared on USA TODAY in At the Airport column.)
For the past five years, I’ve done an annual round-up for my “At the Airport” column on USAToday.com of airports where passengers can get a flu shot while they’re waiting for their flights. For a while there, the number of airports offering this service was increasing – last year I counted more that two dozen – but this year it won’t be so easy for health-conscious road warriors to get that flu shot on the fly.
After a several-year spike in availability, the trend of offering flu shots at U.S. airports seems to be waning.
While there are several cities where the flu vaccine is available at clinics on airport property or right nearby, as the accompanying chart shows, this year there are less than a dozen U.S. cities where travelers will be able to get immunized against this year’s strain of the flu inside an airport.
“The contracting process may have proved too onerous,” said Kent Vanden Oever, of the AirProjects consulting firm, “Or it may be that the number of flu shot outlets available to people has exploded in the last couple of years. It seems that every grocery store, drug store, etc. offers them now and not as many people require the convenience of getting them at the airport.”
At airports in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Miami and Las Vegas, the on-site clinics operated by AeroClinic and AirportMD that once offered flu shots are no longer open. Harmony Pharmacy, which in past years offered flu shots at health centers at JFK, SFO and Newark-Liberty airports, has shifted focus and now only sells health and beauty products at its airport locations.
And this year FLU*Ease, a company that for the past five years has set up and staffed many in-airport flu shot kiosks, isn’t even offering that service.
“Over the years, I’ve had kiosks at JFK, BOS, ORD, MDW, STL, DEN, LAX, TPA, CVG and SFO,” said FLU*Ease owner Jeff Butler, “We provided in excess of 60,000 shots annually. But last year business was down over 60 percent, with no explainable reason.”
It’s not that getting a flu shot is no longer important for travelers. “When you travel, you’re going to be exposed to many more people and potentially exposed to a wide variety of bugs that could cause infection” says Dr. Robert Wheeler, the medical director of On Call International, which provides medical and travel assistance for travelers, “So travelers do need to be concerned about flu this time of year.”
This year, travelers seeking flu shots at an airport will find them at kiosks inside the Louisville and San Diego airports and at the Carehere Walk-in Clinic and Wellness Store at Nashville International Airport. At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the remaining (and original) AeroClinic is offering flu shots at both its atrium site and at several kiosks inside the airport. The clinics inside San Francisco International and Orlando International Airports are also offering flu shots, as are independent clinics located on airport property or right nearby Los Angeles, Boston, JFK and Honolulu airports.
At O’Hare International Airport, which seven years ago was the first airport to offer flu shot kiosks, the UIC O’Hare Urgent Care Center is once again offering flu shots in its clinic and at several temporary kiosks in the terminals. And while it takes ten to fourteen days for protection from a flu vaccine to kick in, clinic medical director John Zautcke says airport flu shot kiosks offer busy travelers the utmost in convenience. “There’s virtually no wait and it takes less than five minutes. We’ve done almost 3,000 flu shots this year already and expect to do another 1,000.”
Last week, Barbara Cohen of Bethesda, Md., and Donna Vobornik of Oak Park, Ill., were among the travelers who stopped to get their flu shots at one of the kiosks at O’Hare International Airport.
Cohen was heading back to Maryland after visiting her son at college in Chicago. “When I’m at the airport, I usually read or walk around,” said Cohen, “I really meant to get a flu shot this weekend and there was the stand. This is perfect. It’s as easy as it can get.”
Vobornik was on her way home from visiting her daughter, who is attending college in Miami. “It’s becoming an annual thing for me to get my flu shot at the airport,” said Vobornik, “This is my third year. I travel a lot for my job as a lawyer and sit next to a lot of sick people on a lot of flights. I’ll feel less worried now knowing that I have my shot.”
Flu season is just around the corner and many airports around the country are, once again, doing their part to keep travelers healthy.
First to begin spreading the word: the San Diego International Airport.
They’re offering influenza, Tdap (to address the pertussis/whooping cough epidemic), Hepatitis A and B and other CDC-recommended vaccinations, for a fee, to ticketed passengers now through November 28 at two post-security locations in Terminal 1 East and West rotundas, Sunday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
I’m gathering details about other airports offering flu shots and other vaccinations this season, so if you see a kiosk set up at your airport, let me know.