By Jeff Daniels EBS Medical Columnist
If you are traveling this summer (or winter, spring or fall), you have to consider your health before you leave. Traveling itself can cause health problems, such as blood clots after a long plane flight. When you reach your destination, you can be exposed to a variety of infecting organisms that your body is not immune to, which in turn can lead to serious, even life-threatening, infections. Finally, if you have a medical problem, it could be difficult to get the right medications or supplies while in a foreign country.
Planning ahead for possible problems is one key to having a safe and trouble-free vacation. Little things can sometimes be of great importance. If you take medications, keep a supply in your carry-on baggage so you’ll be able to take your medicines if your luggage is lost or delayed. Make a list of all your medicines, including the dosages, should you lose them or run out. Before leaving, there are websites that can tell you the names and availability of your medication at your destination, and whether or not you can find it at a local pharmacy.
If you are traveling to a tropical country, or to any lesser-developed part of the world, there are specific vaccinations that are recommended to help avoid certain illnesses that might be prevalent. It’s important to get the vaccinations you need weeks or months before traveling—not the day before you leave—so that a high level of immunity can be built up and help protect against infection.
Hepatitis A vaccination for visitors to any tropical or developing country is considered by the Center for Disease Control to be very important, mainly for preventing diarrhea. An oral typhoid vaccine can help prevent typhoid fever. If you’re traveling to the Amazon of tropical West Africa, a yellow fever vaccination is recommended. There are other specific vaccines that depend on both the destination and the type of vacation you are taking.
In tropical countries, avoiding mosquito bites is one of the most important ways to prevent illness. There has been a sharp increase in the number of cases of mosquito-borne diseases. Infections like Dengue fever, Chikungunya, and Zika virus are being reported more and more in subtropical and even temperate climates. And you really don’t want to be infected with malaria. Plan on packing the strongest insect repellent, with DEET or picaridin, and if you are going to be in an area where malaria is found, there are medicines that can prevent an infection, even if bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito.
If you are not staying in luxury accommodations, there are a number of things you should consider avoiding: drinking tap water; using ice; and eating uncooked food cleaned in tap water like salads, fruits or vegetables.
If you are in a situation (e.g., trekking through the jungle) where the water might be unsafe, you can boil water for at least three minutes and drink it when it cools, or add two drops of 5 percent bleach to 2 quarts of water and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.
If you are in an area with poor sanitation, avoid walking barefoot because worm larvae in fecal material (human or otherwise) mixed into the soil can enter the body through your feet. You really don’t want that to happen!
Even consider the fact that there are many places in the world where the rules of the road are far different than anything you’ve ever experienced. Be careful driving a rented car, or even crossing the streets.
Whenever I give travel advice, or travel myself, I go to the CDC’s website, cdc.gov/travel. Another interesting website that gives free travel advice is available from the Massachusetts General Hospital: gten.travel/trhip/trhip. This site is sponsored by the Global TravEpiNet and is titled the Travellers’ Rapid Health Information Portal. You just need to enter your age, zip code and destination.
Thank you to UpToDate for most of this information, and have safe travels!
Dr. Jeff Daniels was the recipient of the 2015 Chamber of Commerce Chet Huntley Lifetime Achievement Award and has been practicing medicine in Big Sky since 1994, when he and his family moved here from New York City. A unique program he implements has attracted more than 800 medical students and young doctors to train with the Medical Clinic of Big Sky.