You have your sunscreen, swimsuit, and flip flops all packed, and you’re ready for some fun in the sun - but what if we told you that you could contract a dangerous or possibly deadly illness while away on vacation? Would this hinder your plans? International travelers should always be cautious about their health and safety when visiting abroad, as when least expected, illness or an injury can strike and potentially ruin your dream vacation. Here is a comprehensive guide to help you not only have a safe and healthy trip but also make you aware of the different illnesses you can contract and how to prevent them, while still indulging in your wanderlust.
Diseases To Be Aware Of
While visiting a foreign country - whether it is sunny and hot, cold and snowy, or damp and mountainous - there are a variety of diseases a traveler can contract for numerous reasons. It is wise to be aware of some of these illnesses to ensure the proper preventative measures have been taken before leaving as well as while you are on vacation. Some of the most common diseases a visitor can contract are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and traveler's diarrhea, which can all be easily avoided with medication and immunization before leaving for your vacation.
Other preventable but critical illnesses a traveler can contract are the Zika virus, cholera, bed bugs, influenza (the flu), Avian influenza (bird flu), and the Ebola virus. Malaria, AIDS/HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), rabies, typhoid fever, and parasitic infections such as hookworm are also common diseases an individual can contract. All of these conditions vary with symptoms and severity, and also depend on the environment you are visiting, with many of these illnesses thriving in hot, dry, and even tropical places due to contaminated water and food, insects and animals, or human-carried infections.
The Importance Of Vaccines
Vaccines are a necessity when it comes to preventing multiple diseases we can contract throughout our lifetime, and a majority of us will receive many of these life-saving vaccines before the age of two. However, before traveling to a foreign nation, make sure to research the country and what diseases are prevalent there, as well as what you can contract while visiting. To ensure you do not get sick while abroad, consult a health care provider, such as a registered nurse or physician, or visit a health clinic preferably six weeks before traveling.
Take this opportunity to review your immunization history and update any vaccines you need, discuss any trip-related health concerns you may have, and assess your health needs based on where you plan to travel to and what you want to do there. Also, a quick tip is to carry a copy of your immunization records on you whenever you travel, as some countries require proof that you have been vaccinated for certain diseases - such as yellow fever - when entering Australia and the Bahamas.
The Three Ps Of Traveling: Be Proactive & Prepared
Whenever you visit a new place, always remember the three Ps to ensure you will have a safe and healthy vacation: be proactive, be prepared, and be protected! Steps taken to be proactive is by anticipating any issues that could arise during your trip, such as researching your destination, visiting a doctor for a health checkup and vaccination update, and considering your health status before traveling. For instance, ask yourself these simple questions: Am I too sick to travel due to recent illnesses, injuries, or surgeries? Do I have any special health needs such as small children, a pregnancy, disabilities, or a weakened immune system to worry about?
Being prepared is essential when traveling to a foreign destination, as no one wants to think about getting sick or injured during your visit. But these things happen. You may not be able to prevent every issue that arises. However, you can plan ahead and be able to deal with these problems through practices such as packing smart and with all your health essentials - including medications needed - knowing what to do if you become sick or injured, and sharing important information about your health while vacationing with your doctor when you return home.
The Three Ps Of Traveling: Be Protected
Lastly, be protected while abroad by practicing healthy behaviors during your trip and when you return home. This includes paying attention to your health during your vacation, such as using sunscreen and insect repellent, being cautious of food and water, limiting alcohol intake and not drinking and driving, and wearing a seatbelt whenever you are in a vehicle. Also, be sure to wear protective gear such as a helmet whenever participating in adventurous activities, and always respect your host country and its locals by following their rules and customs. Also, ensure you monitor your health when you arrive home and report any unusual symptoms or suspected illnesses to your doctor immediately.
Prevention Of Insect And Animal Bites
Insect and animal bites can lead to many infectious diseases including the Zika virus, the Ebola virus, bird flu, malaria, rabies, and parasitic infections. There are six simple ways to prevent insect and animal bites: covering up, using insect repellent, not touching stray animals, considering your accommodations, sleeping under a bed net, and applying permethrin insecticide for greater protection. Covering up includes wearing a hat, light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants (when appropriate), and loose-fitting clothing you can tuck into your pants and shoes, while also wearing shoes or boots as opposed to sandals, when necessary.
In a tick-infested area, you can tape your pant cuffs or tuck them into your socks or shoes. Also, do not walk barefoot on wet sand or grass as you are susceptible to contracting hookworms or other parasites. Use insect repellent on exposed skin when necessary, especially repellent containing DEET or picaridin, which are the most effective, and follow the instructions on the bottle. Also, reapply repellent often when visiting countries known to have insect or mosquito-based diseases.
Preventing Insect & Animal Bites Continued
When in a foreign country - such as Cuba, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic - where stray animals are abundant on the streets and resorts, no matter how cute they are, do not touch them! Many of these furry creatures carry parasites and other diseases, such as fleas and ticks, humans can contract when petting them. Consider your accommodations and ensure you are staying in a well-screened or enclosed air-conditioned room, and avoid staying in poorly constructed housing.
Try to sleep under a bed net, preferably treated with insecticide, and make sure it is not touching you and use it on beds, playpens, cribs, and strollers to protect young children. Lastly, remember to purchase and apply permethrin insecticide where it is available, as it is not used directly on the skin, but rather on clothing to prevent bites, as it can last for up to seven washes.
Sun And Heat Prevention
What’s a fantastic vacation without a little fun in the sun? To ensure you enjoy your tropical resort or hot destination, there are a few preventative measures you should take to avoid sun and heat-related health issues, which can be incredibly dangerous for your overall health. Health risks associated with the sun and heat are most prevalent for older travelers, infants, and young children, as well as those who have chronic illnesses such as breathing problems, heart or kidney problems, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, or a mental condition.
Some key tips to remember are to dress for the weather by wearing loose-fitting and breathable fabric, stay hydrated, and drink plenty of water. Also, avoid sun exposure and limit your time in the sun by wearing a hat or staying in the shade, wearing sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays, and lathering on the sunscreen! Make sure you are using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least fifteen (if you’re in a tropical paradise, you may want to consider thirty plus), and the sunscreen should state it is ‘broad-spectrum,’ which means it protects against most UVA and UVB rays.
Sunburns are the most typical form of sun-related conditions an individual can develop. A sunburn is caused by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, while the symptoms are temporary, it can cause skin damage which can develop into serious long-term health concerns, such as skin cancer. Protect yourself on cloudy days or when you least expect to get a sunburn, as reflections off of snow, water, sand, and concrete can increase the effect of UV rays.
If you have been in the sun long enough, you may be at an increased risk for heat illness, so be aware of both to protect yourself effectively. Symptoms of sunburn include red, tender skin that is warm and sensitive to the touch, blistering, severe reactions such as fever, chills, nausea, or a rash, and skin peeling in the sunburnt areas days later. Although you cannot magically cure it in a day, you may find relief by applying one-hundred percent aloe vera gel, staying out of the sun and cover up the sunburnt areas, and drink plenty of fluids.
With long periods of time exposed to the sun, the heat is another element that can dramatically affect an individual’s health, which may result in a trip to the hospital, and possibly ruin your vacation. Heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat fainting, heat edema (the swelling of the hands, feet, and ankles), heat cramps (muscle cramps), and heat rash. Heat illnesses can affect an individual quickly and are mainly caused by overexposure or overexertion to the sun and heat. Symptoms of heat illness include dizziness or fainting, nausea and vomiting, headache, rapid breathing and heart rate, extreme thirst and dry mouth, and a decrease in urination with unusually dark urine. If you experience any of these symptoms while exposed to hot weather, immediately seek shelter (preferably cool) and drink plenty of liquids, particularly water.
Also, be aware of any medication you may be taking, as some medications can affect a person’s sensitivity to heat or sunlight, and can interfere with the body’s cooling functions, water, and salt retention, or make the skin more sensitive to UV rays. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you are taking and follow their recommendations on how to prevent sun and heat-related conditions when traveling.
Quick Tips To Remember To Make Your Trip Unforgettable
After spending thousands of dollars, putting a lot of time and effort into planning, and all that built up anticipation for the trip of a lifetime, it would be a shame if illness, injury, or the unexpected occurred and ruined your vacation. But fear not! Here are a few essential tips to remember that can make your trip a breeze. For starters, when you arrive at your destination, ensure you know where your home country’s office or embassy is (e.g., the American Embassy for United States citizens), or the embassy of a country with which yours has a sharing agreement, as it can help you when you are faced with an emergency and need to return home quickly.
While vacationing, remember to wash your hands frequently and carry sanitizer with you, as it prevents the spread of germs and diseases, and drink bottled water as you cannot assume all water from a tap is purified and safe. Also, be incredibly cautious of what you eat and follow this golden rule: ‘Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!’
Quick Health Tips For An Amazing Vacation Part II
Another awesome tip is to pack a travel health kit that includes bandages, anti-nausea tablets, antibiotic and antifungal ointment, pain reliever, allergy medication, and antacids. It is also a safe bet that when traveling around a foreign city, you should always follow the local traffic laws, as traffic accidents are the most common cause of death and injury among travelers under the age of fifty. Research and become familiar with the local traffic laws and customs, don’t drink and drive, and always wear a helmet if you plan on riding a moped or scooter.
Finally, one of the last great pieces of advice to bestow on you is to get traveler’s and medical insurance when exploring abroad, especially if you are planning on doing any high-risk adventure travel. Check your policy to make sure your medical expenses abroad will be covered, as well as for any emergency evacuations, or plane or trip cancellations. You can purchase traveler's insurance through an insurance company or with a travel agent. Bon voyage!