No one likes to think about being sick on vacation, but warm, humid weather and crowded summer destinations can be a recipe for illness. GBMC infectious disease physicians Theodore Bailey, MD, JD, MA, and Maneesha Ahluwalia, MD, offer some tips for a safe and healthy vacation:
Hand washing is the number one precaution to take when traveling
Avoid local foods or drinks in certain parts of the world
Consult with a doctor about vaccinations before traveling abroad
Seek medical attention immediately if you think you or a family member has contracted a disease
Maneesha Ahluwalia, MD
Hand washing cannot be emphasized enough; it’s like a do-it yourself vaccine! Lather with water for at least 20 seconds (about one Happy Birthday song) and dry with a clean towel. Wash before eating, before and after treating a cut or wound, after using the toilet, after touching an animal or garbage, and after changing diapers. Avoid those who are coughing and sneezing, and if you must cough or sneeze, do so into your shirt sleeve or elbow, not into your hand.
Bring full-sized bottles of sunscreen and insect repellent, especially if visiting a tropical location (these need to be packed in your checked baggage if you’re flying to your destination). Use products with 25 percent DEET; you don’t need more than that. Apply sunscreen first, and then insect repellent. Also bring hand sanitizer or dissolvable soap, which does not require water to rinse off. Oral rehydration salts can come in handy for people who become dehydrated due to traveler’s diarrhea or vomiting. Bring along 1% hydrocortisone cream; it is helpful for a variety of skin conditions from insect bites and poison ivy to allergies, rashes and overall itchiness. Keep your prescription medications in your carry-on luggage and bring extra just in case. If you have any chronic illnesses, carry a card that identifies, in the local language, your blood type, medical conditions, medicines you take, and any allergies you have. Wear a MedicAlert bracelet if you have serious medical conditions.
Theodore Bailey, MD, JD, MA
If you are traveling abroad to places like Africa, Asia or South America, do not drink the tap water (includes ice in drinks, ice cream, or food washed in water, like salads). Brush your teeth with bottled water. Avoid eating raw fruits or vegetables unless they have a thick peel, like a banana or orange. In all locations, be wary of food served at room temperature, raw or soft-cooked eggs, raw or undercooked meat or fish, unpasteurized dairy and wild game. Eating only freshly cooked meals while piping hot is the safest approach to eating while traveling.
Visit your primary care physician or a travel clinic about 6-8 weeks prior to traveling and bring along your vaccination history, a detailed itinerary and your travel dates. They will be able to give you reliable advice on recommended vaccines. Some vaccines and malaria prevention tablets must be started weeks prior to travel, so be sure to plan ahead. For the most up-to-date, reliable travel alerts for every country, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/.
Hydration is usually a good first step in treating an illness. Find a safe and reliable doctor who speaks your language by contacting the US embassy in your destination country (http://www.usembassy.gov). Consider travel insurance to protect against the costs of medical care and medical evacuation for travel related illnesses. Upon returning home, make an appointment with a primary care physician, who will assess your symptoms and determine whether a referral to an infectious disease specialist is necessary. To learn more about GBMC Health Partners primary care practices, visit www.mygbmcdoctor.com. Even if your vacation ends without apparent illness, you may not be home free yet. If you were taking medicine to prevent malaria, you will need to keep taking it for up to four weeks (depending on the medication) after your return. Moreover, some infections take time to show themselves so if you become ill weeks to months or even longer after you travel. Symptoms that appear after a trip should prompt your primary care doctor to think about travel related infections.
This webpage is for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice or a substitute for a consultation with a professional healthcare provider.