A trip to another country can be exciting and enjoyable, but it also can adversely affect your health. Fortunately, many travel-related health hazards can be avoided by taking a few precautions.
Overall: Let common sense guide you in your travels. Wear clothing appropriate for the climate of the places you visit; use a sunscreen when appropriate. Do your sightseeing in comfortable walking shoes, and try not to crowd too much into each day. Keep your sleeping habits as normal as possible. Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. Above all wash your hands frequently, especially when preparing or handling food and when in contact with local residents or in public areas.
Water: Water quality varies from country to country, and even within countries. In developing countries, it is best not to drink tap water. Use bottled, carbonated water or water that has been boiled, as in tea and coffee. Tap water can be made safe by boiling it briefly or by using chemical disinfectants recommended by your doctor or pharmacist. Don’t assume that water is safe because it is chlorinated. Chlorination does not destroy all the organisms that can make you ill. While portable water purifiers greatly improve the taste of water and assists in the purification process, they should not be used in place of chemical or boiling purification methods. Avoid ice in drinks; it may have been made from contaminated water, and there is not enough alcohol in mixed drinks to kill bacteria. Finally, brushing your teeth should be done with purified water but if that is not available use hot tap water.
Food: It is a good policy to eat only foods that are well cooked and served hot. Eat freshly boiled foods such as beans and rice or baked goods such as breads and tortillas. It is also advisable to eat fruits, nuts and vegetables with thick skins which you have removed yourself. Avoid cold foods (cold cuts, etc), salads, and raw fruits and vegetables (especially watermelons), unless you peel them yourself. Don’t eat left overs, food from street vendors, buffet foods or unpasteurized dairy products. Be particularly wary of ice cream and other frozen confections that may have been made or stored in contaminated containers. Don¹t eat food enhancers such as chutneys or salsas, which are usually raw and made by hand. Never eat raw shellfish. Don’t eat canned food if the tin appears blown or swollen.
Jet Lag: Long-distance travel by airplane can disrupt the natural functioning of your body, especially your eating and sleeping habits. In general, you should eat when you are hungry even if it is 3:00 a.m. Allow your body to adjust gradually to time changes. Some airplane travelers feel very tired when they arrive at their destination. To avoid jet lag, try the following: for flights eastward, go to bed earlier than usual for three nights before you leave; for flights westward, stay up later than usual for three nights before you leave. Sleep on the airplane, if possible, and try to take a nap as soon as you arrive at your destination. The air on planes tends to be dry, so you should drink a lot of nonalcoholic fluids. Alcohol will dehydrate you more.
Swimming: Try to limit your swimming to chlorinated pools and unpolluted ocean beaches far from the mouths of streams. Avoid slow moving freshwater lakes and rivers in the tropics they may contain snails that transmit diseases. The snail larvae are capable of penetrating the unbroken skin of humans causing serious illness in some cases. Wear footwear whenever possible (even on the beach) and bring blankets or towels to sit on when chairs are not available. Walking barefoot exposes you to poisonous plants and animals, parasite and fungal infections, puncture wounds and cuts and bruises.
Insects: Travel to tropical climates entails contact with a variety of insects capable of transmitting infectious diseases. The most well known culprit is the mosquito, which may transmit yellow fever, malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever, as well as other diseases. If you’re traveling to Central or South America, Southeast Asia or Africa, you’ll need proper vaccination and/or medication before leaving and special precautions while traveling. Limit outdoor activity between dusk and dawn to reduce the risk of malaria and Japanese encephalitis (dengue fever, however, is transmitted by day-biting mosquitoes, primarily in urban areas.). Wear a good insect repellent containing at lest 50% DEET.Reapply insect repellent after swimming or excessive sweating. Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and pants whenever practical. Sleep in well-screened areas. Use bed nets permeated with a permethrin insecticide. Use coils and insect sprays containing pyrethrum to kill insects in living or sleeping quarters.
Altitude Sickness: “Climb high, sleep low.” Altitude illness occurs during ascent, not descent. The simplest way to avoid or reduce symptoms is to ascend slowly to give your body time to become accustomed to changes in oxygen concentration. If you begin to feel mild symptoms of altitude illness, or reach an altitude of 10,000 feet (about 3,000 meters), it is best to keep your total daily attitude gain under 1,000 feet (about 300 meters). You can exceed 1,000 feet of altitude during the day’s climb, but you should descend to sleep at an altitude that is no more than 1,000 feet (about 300 meters) above the previous night’s. Increase your fluid intake to counteract symptoms of dehydration induced by dry mountain air and increased respiratory rate. Avoid using alcohol or any unnecessary medications since their effects may be increased at high altitudes. Sleeping pills, tranquilizers and narcotic-based pain relievers, in particular, can cause serious problems because they can decrease your breathing rate. Consult your physician about any medications you plan to bring with you.
Injuries On Your Travels: Medical care can vary from country to country. Talk with your doctor to set up a medical plan in case you are injured during your trip. This will ensure you the best medical care in case of any emergency. One example is if you are traveling to East Africa and become injured, Flying Doctors have aircraft on standby to rescue you or your family in case of an emergency.
Don’t Forget: If you wear glasses or contact lenses, take along an extra pair. Have an adequate supply of any medication you take regularly, especially prescription drugs, and carry a note from your doctor stating the need for such medication. It is important to have your prescriptions filled before you leave, because some drugs have different trade names in other countries. Carry your medication with you so that you will have it even if your luggage is lost or delayed.
Suggested Medical Kit: Below is a suggested list of items that you should bring on your trip. They will help you on day to day needs as well as minor health emergencies. The amounts are based on 48 hours but if you are traveling for an extended period of time make adjustments to the quantities.
Colds & Allergies
Insect or Allergy Creams
Prescription Medication: Consult with your physician on prescription medication you should take for special conditions or for specific locations you are traveling to on your trip.
Other items: Band-aids, adhesive tape, disposable thermometer, hand sanitizer, insect repellent, nasal spray, eye drops, first aid book, tweezers and safety pins.
After Your Trip:You should have a post-travel appointment to see your travel physician if you spent 3 months or more in a rural area of a developing country, you were told or have symptoms of malaria, you were treated or hospitalized for any medical illness during your travels or you have any ongoing symptoms.