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Doctor’s Note: Precautions for travelers heading south

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By Dr. Jeff Daniels EBS Medical Columnist

The 2015-2016 ski season at Big Sky Resort finishes April 17, and at the Medical Clinic of Big Sky we’re completing our 22nd year caring for the injuries and illnesses of skiers and snowboarders who vacation here or make Big Sky their home.

It’s been an interesting year, and we were as busy as ever – now we can take a breather after another successful season.

Many of those lucky enough to live in Big Sky will have plans to escape for a couple of weeks, some of us to warmer parts of the world.

When visiting other countries, you must be prepared to protect yourself against infections that you’ve never encountered before. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website keeps up-to-date information on what dangers lurk out there, be it exposure to mosquitoes that transmit malaria and yellow fever, or the need to get a vaccine to prevent typhoid fever.

Traveling right now presents a challenge that we didn’t have to consider as recently as a year ago. The Zika virus is a concern when going to the tropics, and even some areas of the southern U.S. It seems to make the health news headlines nearly every day and I imagine, as we get closer to the summer Olympics in Brazil – from Aug. 5 through Aug. 21 – we’ll be hearing even more about this virus.

I’m sure Brazil will do more, but according to the Wikipedia page for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the plans to prevent the spread of Zika “would be daily inspections of Olympic venues to prevent puddles of stagnant water that allow mosquitoes to breed.” You’d think officials would also hand every athlete and spectator a six-pack of Off! insect repellant.

Other mosquito-borne diseases go hand-in-hand with the Zika virus, so when you take precautions against getting bitten, you will help prevent such illnesses as Dengue fever, Chickungunya, and even malaria.

Methods to avoid mosquito bites include wearing long pants, long-sleeve shirts and head covering, as well as sleeping under a mosquito net that contains permethrin insect repellant. Staying in hotels with air conditioning and screens on the windows is a more luxurious way to travel, as well as a way to prevent being bitten.

Vaccination against hepatitis A keeps down the risk of getting traveler’s diarrhea, and has been recommended by the CDC since the vaccine was developed in the early 1990s. Getting two doses, six to 18 months apart, can give permanent immunity to this virus that is very common in the tropics.

We have plenty of mosquitoes here in Montana, at least for a couple of weeks in the summer, along with black flies and other biting insects. The precautions mentioned above will work for protecting you here, as well as south of the border.

On a final note, and without mentioning names – that’s never been my style – I’d like to tip my hat to my editor at Explore Big Sky, who gave me the distinct pleasure of reducing his dislocated shoulder April 1. I hope it heals quickly.

Have a great and relaxing offseason!

Dr. Jeff Daniels 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 700 medical students and young doctors to train with the Medical Clinic of Big Sky.

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