Staying Healthy While You're Away
Nothing ruins a vacation faster than coming down with a virus while you're away from home. An unexpected injury can consume your travel time as you search for medical help and try to sort out payment policies in foreign countries. When travelling, as with so many other things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
While you are researching hotels and airfare, take the time to look into potential health issues as well. When your travel plans include international destinations, there are a number of factors that will influence preventative health care, says Dr. Ruth Rabinovitch, infectious disease specialist in Medford, "We get out a map and look at where they are going." Issues to consider may include political problems, available health care facilities in the destination area and even geography. "A mountain range or a river may have specific [health] issues on one side or the other."
For Anne McAlpin, travel expert and Rogue Valley resident, health precautions begin well before she gets on the plane or in the car. Along with being sure her immunizations are up to date, she also recommends checking your insurance. "Check with your insurance and travel agent to be sure you are covered if you are outside the U.S.," she notes, adding that some places will expect cash payment on the spot for medical treatment. "What if that means being airlifted off a mountain or cruise ship?"
The Jackson County Health Department also provides some travel recommendations, says community health nurse Carol Irwin. "We can provide all vaccines and malaria prescriptions," adding that they also often recommend information from the travel section of the Centers for Disease Control web site (www.cdc.gov).
And everyone agrees on the necessity of a pre-travel consultation with your physician. "It can be fairly complicated depending on a number of factors," cautions Rabinovitch. Not only current information on your destination but your health history, current medications or ongoing health issues, even your age and stage of life all play a part in determining which types of immunizations or prescriptions will be most effective in protecting your health while you are away. And the time frame is important, too, particularly if immunizations must be administered in a series. "Some shots have to start six to eight months in advance," advises McAlpin.
Even if you're not planning on tackling the rain forest, there are still basic precautions you should take to protect your health. Travelers anywhere should observe basic food and water precautions, as well as carrying sunscreen and bug spray, says Irwin. Other tips McAlpin offers? Frequent hand washing, carrying a healthy snack, bottled water and avoiding airplane pillows and blankets. "You don't know the last time they've been washed."
If you do experience any illness after returning home, don't forget to mention your travel activities to your doctor. Sometimes your vacation may be the best clue in determining a diagnosis and treatment both in the weeks and months following your trip. "Most will present in the first couple of weeks," say Rabinovitch, but illnesses like malaria may take up to a year before symptoms develop.
As a last thought, McAlpin recommends listening to the professionals while researching or experiencing a new destination. Those who put together visitor guides and other information have been there and know firsthand some of the challenges you will face. Use common sense, she sums up and you'll come back from your vacation with nothing more than great photos and great memories.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer the following advice if you're traveling to a location where the water safety is a concern:
Bring bottled water, if possible, if you know you'll be in an area where water may not be pure.
Boil water for one minute to kill bacteria, parasites and viruses. Boil for three minutes at higher altitudes. They suggest adding a pinch of salt for each quart you boil to make the water taste better.
Disinfect water with iodine tablets or crystalline iodine (both can be found at sporting goods stores), following manufacturer's suggestions.
You can use a portable water filter -- but you may need to follow up with a chemical disinfectant.