Sundance's Disease "Petri Dish": How Hollywood Fights Festival Health Dangers

Mountain Sneeze Illo - H 2015
Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

Mountain Sneeze Illo - H 2015

Runny noses, coughs, an ineffective flu vaccine and very close quarters: Industry veterans and medical pros share their tips for avoiding illness amid 20-degree temperatures, 22-hour workdays and 50,000 other attendees.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

"During the festival, the 11 square miles of Park City become a petri dish," says CNN Worldwide senior vp Vinnie Malhotra. He's not wrong: According to the CDC, Utah is experiencing a high level of influenza-like illness this season, and the obsessively wary can track Park City's epidemics in real time with Intermountain Healthcare's Germwatch app. As of press time, influenza A, rhinovirus (or the common cold) and walking pneumonia were all "highly active." How to deal? Veteran publicist Jeff Hill recommends this initial strategy: "Take the day to adjust to the altitude — water and aspirin help tremendously. And don't drink alcohol that first day." Other tips from fest vets and medical pros:

Doctors may not be convinced of the efficacy of supplements, but at least "they force you to drink extra water," says Century City-based concierge doctor Jeremy Fine. Hollywood pros swear by their favorite remedies, from Royal King Ban Lan Gen Herbal Tea ("a magical tea that kept our condo healthy last year," says MPRM publicist Shelby Kimlick) to prescription B12 shots, something Norton Herrick of Herrick Entertainment (which produced last year's Very Good Girls starring Dakota Fanning) uses to boost immunity. Independent producer Karin Silverstein has a host of standbys: "Sambucus elderberry syrup at Whole Foods for immunity; Doterra OnGuard Oil on the soles of your feet, or you can dilute it and drink it; and colloidal silver spray — a day of spray and it goes away!" Says Strand Releasing co-president Marcus Hu, "Supradyn, an effervescent tablet, keeps me healthy and zippy." The multivitamin is only sold in Europe, so get a friend to ship it to you (for next year).

"Hydration is key," says Lia Buman, president of acquisitions at Focus Features. H2O helps attendees adjust to Park City's altitude, where "we dehydrate quicker," says Dr. Kris Kemp, a Park City Medical Center director, who suggests a Diamox 'script for those susceptible to altitude sickness. And plain old soap and water is the best defense against grimy shuttle-bus handrails and endless glad-handing, as is "minimizing contact above your neck," advises Beverly Hills-based internist Dr. Dennis Evangelatos.

Sundance Selects/IFC Films' Jonathan Sehring compensates for poor sleep with exercise ("nearly impossible"), water and vitamin C. Fine recommends garlic, ginger and extra protein as immunity boosters. WireImage co-founder Jeff Vespa, the fest's official photographer, stocks up at Whole Foods and has been known to make a "giant pot of vegan chili." Strategy PR's Emily Lu (Boyhood) goes so far as to bring "a slow cooker and make my own stew/soup." Adds Vespa: "The big thing is green juice. If Pressed Juicery opened for a week, they'd make a killing."

Because if you haven't yet, it's too late: The vaccine requires two weeks to take effect. Procrastinators can take care of their post-fest health at Intermountain Healthcare's pop-up flu-shot clinic at the Salt Lake City airport. This year's vaccine is suboptimal, lowering your risk of catching the bug by only 23 percent: "You're more likely to get the flu this year," says Fine, "but we're doing all we can prophylactically." In other words, a shot can't hurt.

When you feel fever and fatigue coming on, taking Tamiflu (by prescription) within 36 to 48 hours can hasten recovery. But to really avoid getting sick at Sundance, Herrick recommends flying private: "I'm not trapped in a plane, which can be an incubator for flus and colds."

Read more Hollywood's Vaccine Wars: L.A.'s "Entitled" Westsiders Behind City's Epidemic



Jared Leto (pictured below) elbow-bumped when he was sick around Sundance-time last yearbut etiquette expert Lisa Gache of Beverly Hills Manners says, “If you’re not well enough to shake hands, you shouldn’t be out in the first place.” She recommends carrying sanitizer, as does CNN’s Vinnie Malhotra, who applies it after every handshake (“no offense intended”), making a discreet detour to the washroom. Germaphobes can invest in thin cashmere or leather gloves and a coldhands excuse, or occupy both hands with a drink and a plate of hors d’oeuvres. For kisses, Gache notes that the proper greeting is cheek-to-cheek with the kiss being blown into the air, “so there’s no lip-to-face contact.”