How to Avoid Getting Sick When Traveling
Whether you’re moving temporarily, or planning to become an expat, protecting yourself against a myriad of invisible viruses and bacteria can be daunting
This article aims to discuss a few of the more predominant illnesses which tend to befall travelers, and what you can do to protect yourself.
1.) Pre-Travel Physical
4-6 weeks before you intend to travel, meet with your doctor and have a physical, and let your physician know of your travel plans.
2.) Get vaccinated.
You may need several vaccinations, and some of these take some time before they are effective. In addition to this, you may also need to update your vaccines, or get “booster” shots.
Tetanus, influenza, measles, and polio are examples of vaccines which are commonly updated before international travel.
Depending on your destination, you may need vaccines for illnesses which are not common in North America. These include:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Meningococcal, and typhoid
Many countries have mandatory vaccinations for anyone intending to visit. Some examples are:
- Yellow fever vaccination is required to enter several Sub-Saharan, Central African, and South American countries.
- Meningococcal vaccination is required to enter Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage.
- For a complete list of country requirements, check the CDC or WHO web sites
3.) Check CDC and WHO websites
Both the CDC (centers for disease control) and WHO (world health organization) closely monitor many different kinds of illnesses and their frequency of occurrence around the world. They keep fabulous record of past and present outbreaks, or high risk areas and closely study the movements of specific illnesses around the world.
A simple visit to the CDC or WHO website can offer you a lot of information, and can help you in your preparation to move or visit by letting you know what health issues you may face, or illnesses of which you should be particularly cautious
4.) Food and Water Safety
First, understand that the food you eat at home isn’t necessarily “safer” than food abroad; it’s often simply that your body isn’t accustomed to it. One important difference between home-grown and foreign foods is the use of more “natural” fertilizers abroad, which can carry bacteria that could cause intestinal distress — also known as “traveler’s tummy”
The Most common source of foodborne illness to anyone is contaminated drinking water, especially ice. To ensure that you don’t end up with a nasty stomach bug, avoid the following:
- Cold meat platters
- Buffet foods
- Unsealed Condiments, especially mayonnaise
- Shellfish (especially oysters, clams, and muscles)
- Unpasteurized Dairy products (yogurt, milk)
Seafood is notorious for being a source of foodborne illness. Fish accumulate contaminates from their surrounding water, food, and many other sources. If you’re going to eat fish, keep in mind that smaller fish tend to be safer, and if you can avoid any fish organs, or shellfish like clams, mussels or oysters, you are greatly reducing your risk of intestinal problems
When it comes to food borne illnesses, the best practice is simply to use common sense. Ask for portions to be served medium or well done, avoid eating foods which have been left out to cool, try to use condiments from sealed packages, avoid runny eggs, and raw veggies you haven’t peeled or washed yourself
A few of the most common foodborne illnesses include
- salmonellosis (caused by salmonella bacteria)
- E. coli infection
5.) WASH YOUR HANDS
Think you’ve washed your hands enough? Wash them again. It’s a page out of the mother’s handbook, but one that can save you a lot of belly aching (pun intended). Wash your hands before and after EVERY meal…
OH, and make sure to use “safe” water when washing your hands or your food.
6.) Avoid Insect Bites
When it comes to illnesses which travel from one host to another via insects, Malaria is one of the biggest threats to travelers. Malaria is a horrific illness, and if you are moving or traveling to a place where malaria is common, then you absolutely need to take medicines that prevent the disease before, during, and after travel. Unfortunately, these medicines’ effectiveness varies, so the best thing a traveler can do is prevent insect bites.
Protecting against Insect Bites:
- Always wear insect repellent with DEET or picaridin when you’re outdoors
- If sleeping outside, make sure to sleep in a bed with mosquito netting
- Wear long sleeves clothing and pants, particularly at dusk and dawn
- Avoid perfumes
A Special note for ZIKA virus:
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease (Zika) are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms that last from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon, and deaths from Zika are very rare.
CDC has issued a travel notice (Level 2 alert-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to places with Zika virus.
Because Zika has been linked to birth defects in women infected during pregnancy, CDC recommends the following:
- Pregnant women should not travel to areas with Zika. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bitesduring the trip.
- Women trying to become pregnant, and their male partners, should consult with their doctor before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.
- Men who have lived in or traveled to an area with Zika and who have a pregnant partner should either use condoms or not have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) during the pregnancy.
There is no medicine for Zika. Travelers can protect themselves from this disease by taking steps to prevent mosquito bites.
When used as directed, insect repellents are the BEST way to protect yourself and family members from getting sick from mosquito bites.
7.) Post Travel Exam:
If you are simply traveling abroad, then make sure to schedule another appointment with your physician for when you arrive back in the states. There’s no harm in making sure you are in the clear by consulting with a medical professional. Many illnesses take a few days to incubate before you may experience any symptoms, so its safest just to schedule an appointment upon returning.
There are many ways you can be proactive and avoid getting sick when travelling
If you are not returning, then make sure to do research about the hospitals and their capabilities which are in the closest proximity to where you will be living. Know which hospitals offer which services, learn their emergency help number, and if possible, correspond with a physician before you leave so that in the event of an emergency, you know who to call, where to go, and there is someone there who knows who you are, so they can provide care immediately if need be.
Going to a new country, either to visit or to take up residence can be an overwhelming prospect, but the truth is, there is little of which to be concerned. Use common sense, protect yourself wash your hands, and chances are, if you do get sick, seek medical attention immediately.