"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."
— St. Augustine, philosopher and theologian (354-430 AD)
Summer's here, the kids are out of school. Travel plans are being made to venture to another region of the country or possibly even internationally. Whatever the scenario may be, it is important to consider travel safety, specifically preventing illness while traveling at home or abroad.
Where will you be going? This is very important, as some illnesses and infections may be regional. For example, valley fever (coccidiodomycosis) is more prevalent in the Southwestern part of the United States such as some parts of California and much of Arizona, while Lyme disease, carried by a tick, occurs more frequently in the Northeast as well as some Pacific coastal regions of the country. It is also important to remember that infections are not always completely isolated to their specific regions. When we travel, there is risk of transporting the infection back to our home and possibly infecting others.
How long, and what time of year will you be traveling? Certainly the longer one is in a particular region, the higher the risk of acquiring the infection. Some infections, such as rotavirus infection in children, are seen more commonly during the winter and early spring months.
What kinds of activities will you and your family be involved in, such as water sports, parasailing, mountain climbing, etc? All have their own inherent risks and pleasures. Watch where, and what, you eat and drink. Savoring the local flavor can be a real treat, but if you are unsure of the food preparation standards, think twice about consuming it. Avoid eating precut or peeled fruit, or fruits with thin edible skin such as apples, grapes or berries. Oranges and bananas, for example, are all right as long as the peel was still on prior to consumption.
Here are some tips to consider when traveling:
• Good hand hygiene. Use soap and water. If none available, then consider a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol as a good alternative;
• Drink plenty of fluids. In parts of the world where drinking water is questionable, boiling water for at least 3-5 minutes followed by cooling will kill most organisms. There are some portable commercial water filters that could be useful in filtering water, but this may not filter out all impurities;
• Visit with your health care provider at least 4-8 weeks prior to travel and on returning, so that you may get the appropriate medications and/or vaccinations;
• Move around, especially on long trips that require prolonged sitting. Remember to walk around every few hours if possible, and wear loosely fitting clothing. This may help prevent blood clots from forming in blood vessels, which could lead to a life-threatening event;
• Pack a travel health kit. Some of the items to include are all your prescription medications, in their original bottles, with enough supply so that you don't run out. A doctor's letter for controlled substances or syringes if needed. Keep a list of your medications, medical problems, and contact information of your emergency contacts and doctors. Know where to go in the even of a medical emergency in your travel destination. Pack basic first aid supplies like band-aids, gauze, ace wraps, antiseptic ointment, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, an antidiarrheal for diarrhea and laxatives for constipation. Any special medications that are needed based on the travel site, such as antimalarials, antibiotics, etc.;
• Lastly, plenty of sunscreen, with an SPF 30 or higher, make sure it protects against both UVA and UVB rays and insect repellant (containing DEET or picaridin).
If you are not feeling well prior to your trip, chances are that you may not feel any better during the trip. Think about travel insurance, and consider rescheduling your trip if not well, as you may spread the infection to others. Find out what your current health insurance carrier does and does not cover, when away from home, including international travel. Know where and how to reach the United States Consulate office for emergencies. Be aware of your environment. Avoid alcohol intoxication, as it can be dangerous to have impaired judgment, particularly in an unfamiliar environment.
Most of all, have a happy and safe vacation.
Always consult a physician for your specific travel needs. There are physicians who specialize in travel medicine.
For more information, please visit the following websites:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – www.cdc.gov
World Health Organization – www.who.int