Travel Health Risks & How to Prepare For Them
Traveling is all about fun and adventure: traipsing through lush jungles, floating in crystal clear
springs, and wandering down historic cobblestone streets. But jetting off to an exotic new location
can also come with risks. From bug bites to food-borne illnesses, there are many ways ailments can
ruin a trip. Here are the top ten travel afflictions and how to prevent them.
One of the most common illnesses that travelers bring back is malaria. This isn’t a souvenir you want to take home – the blood disease can be life threatening.According to the World Health Organization,malaria is transmitted by plasmodium parasites,which are spread through bites from infectedAnopheles mosquitoes. The best protection from malaria is to avoid being bitten, said Don Janes, MD, a board-certified emergency physician at Emergency Physicians Medical Center and a fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Janes recommends staying away from mosquito-dense areas and opting for EPA registered insect repellants with at least 20 percent DEET. For an extra level of protection, ask your doctor about getting medicine to prevent malaria before you depart. The medicine will vary depending the destination you are visiting, and your doctor will pick the best one for your trip.
Another notorious mosquito-borne illness is yellow fever. This disease is commonly found in tropical and subtropical Africa. There is no specific cure for this illness, but doctors are able to treat symptoms, which range from vomiting and fever to aches and nausea.Certain countries require that travelers receive a yellow fever vaccine at least 10days before departure. The Alachua County Health Department offers vaccinations to prevent yellow fever. To make an appointment, call 352-334-7950.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus similar to dengue fever. Known for causing a brain defect called microcephaly, Zika has no treatment or vaccine yet.“Really the only thing and the best thing todo to prevent getting it is to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes,” Janes said. “If you know you are going to a place where they have mosquitoes, bring along either lemon eucalyptus oil or mosquito repellent.”Wear breathable long-sleeved shirts and pants and apply DEET on any exposed parts of your face, neck and hands.
“If you are very paranoid about getting [zika] you can actually buy a mosquito net that you wear,” Janes said. “it fits on a hat and it hangs down like a beekeeper’s net and that will prevent mosquitoes from getting close to your skin.”
Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should avoid countries with current outbreaks, and men who travel to Zika-infested places should use barrier protection during intercourse for six months after their trip.
Hepatitis A, a liver disease spread by contaminated food or water, is a common pitfall for travelers. While it can be prevalent in developing countries with questionable sanitation, people can also contract it in urban areas.There is a vaccination for hepatitis A,but basic precautions start with eating well-cooked food. Order dishes that are hot or pre-packaged and stay away from street foods and room-temperature cuisine.Avoid tap water and ice, and if you’re eating fruit, choose a kind that you can peel, such as oranges. Janes also recommends avoiding tap water or bottled beverages that you do not open yourself. Sometimes restaurants will refill bottles with tap water and sell them again, so make sure to ask for beverages that are sealed before you buy.
HEPATITIS B AND C
Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne and sexually-acquired viral diseases. These are easily avoided as long as you stay away from risky behaviors such as sexual tourism, Janes said. Travelers can also get a hepatitis B vaccine before departure.
GASTROENTERITIS (STOMACH FLU)
This illness is often a problem in less developed countries where water sanitation is less common. To avoid unpleasant side effects of the stomach flu,watch what you eat and drink.Gastroenteritis is usually viral in the U.S.,but in other countries it can be bacterial.You can ask your doctor for a prescription for an antibiotic you can take to take incase you get sick while traveling.
This tick-borne illness can cause rashes,fevers, aches and joint pains. Precautions against ticks are similar to those taken for mosquitoes. Tick-repellent with DEET works, but tick checks are also crucial in preventions. It takes about 24 to 48 hours fora tick to embed, so checking for ticks by the end of your outing is the best way to make sure that you don’t get tick-borne illnesses.“Do tick-checks if you are in wooded areas,and if you can pull them off before they embed then you can basically prevent yourself from catching anything from ticks,”Janes said. “Look at all the parts of your skin that you can look at and have someone else look at the parts you can’t see, like your back.”
In the United States, domesticated animals like cats and dogs very rarely get rabies because of vaccinations. Even unvaccinated,undomesticated animals are unlikely to get the disease, Janes said.“However, in other countries, rabies is much more prevalent, so what I tell people is especially if you’re going to less developed countries in South America, Africa and Asia, it’s probably better not to pet the local dogs, which come up to tourists to beg for food,” Janes said.Even if animals seem friendly, it’s still best to stay away from them. Avoid feeding or touching any animal you see on the street. If you are bit by an animal, seek medical help immediately and do not try to address the injury yourself. Avoid scam products like snake bite kits and don’t try to remove venom yourself.
While motion sickness isn’t a serious condition, it can put a damper on the travel experience. To reduce the feeling of discomfort that can come with riding in a plane, car or cruise ship, pack mints or ginger-flavored lozenges. Sitting over the wings on an airplane or getting a cabin toward the center of a cruise ship can also lessen motion sickness.
Allergic reactions may not be an exotic disease carried by a strange creature,but they are still serious threats for some travelers. Like other risks, proper prevention can be lifesaving.“People that are allergic to bee stings and wasp stings here need to make sure to bring their own epinephrine with them because you can’t rely on being able to get a hold of that in other countries,” Janes said. “It’s one of the few things that can kill you very quickly from something as innocuous as a bee sting”
Many diseases and risks can be avoided with some planning. Make an appointment with your health care provider at least four to six weeks before departing. You can get any necessary vaccines and ask about medications or precautions for your specific destination.Plan to bring any medication you might need with you. Don’t assume that you’ll be able to find preferred brands or drugs at the destination. Janes recommends bringing over-the-counter medicines including a painkiller (acetaminophen or ibuprofen depending on preference) and Benadryl (for motion sickness and mild allergic reactions.)
The Center for Disease Control is also an excellent resource for learning about travel related illnesses and immunizations. You can also search by country here: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list. The CDC also has an app called “Can I Eat It?” that tells users which foods and beverages are safe to consume in each country.By using existing tools and knowledge,you can prepare to have a safe trip. Happy travels!