How to Avoid Travel-Related Illnesses While on Vacation
Travel + Leisure

How to Avoid Travel-Related Illnesses While on Vacation

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Taking a vacation is an excellent way to get a break from the stress and rigors of daily life. Whether you’re traveling to a country you’ve never visited before or simply venturing a few miles down the road, there are sure to be countless activities to keep you occupied for the duration of your stay. However, nothing can ruin a well-planned vacation quite so thoroughly as an unexpected bout of illness. 

In this article, we discuss some common causes of travel-related illness and what you can do to protect yourself while on a trip. We hope that your next vacation goes smoothly and that you don’t experience any unexpected complications!

Health Risks of Traveling during Vacation

When traveling, particularly to a far-away destination, vacationers are likely to experience significant changes in their environmental conditions. These sudden changes can potentially lead to illness or injuries. A traveler may go through major changes in temperature, humidity, or altitude. They may also be exposed to insects, animals, and pathogens that they have not previously encountered. In many cases, it’s possible to prepare for some of these challenges before embarking on your trip so that you enjoy safe and enjoyable travels. 

Depending on where in the world you’re traveling, you ought to be prepared for the possibility of:

  • Significant altitude changes
  • Humidity and heat
  • Animals and insects
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Food or water-related health risks
  • Travelers’ diarrhea
  • Excessive sun exposure

Staying Safe While Exploring New Environments

Preventing Malaria

Malaria is a potentially fatal disease caused by a parasite that can infect mosquitoes. Malaria may cause shaking chills, high fevers, and flu-like symptoms in infected humans. Although cases of malaria do occur in the United States (U.S.) annually, most travelers actually catch this deadly disease while outside of the country. Tropical and subtropical climates, such as those found in some regions of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, have a particularly high rate of malaria transmission compared to the rest of the world.

If you are traveling to a region where there is a known risk of malaria, your doctor may recommend that you take medications to prevent the disease. If you do receive a prescription, you must be sure to follow it closely. You must take medication before you leave, during the time you spend abroad, and for some time once you return. Some strains of malaria have grown resistant to medications, so you should also take all possible steps to avoid mosquito bites.

Preventing Insect Bites

There are few things quite as miserable as being bitten all over by mosquitos or other insects. Even if you do not get sick with a transmissible disease, you’ll be left feeling itchy and uncomfortable for days or weeks following the insect bites. To reduce your odds of being bitten while traveling, it may be helpful to:

  • Wear insect repellent safely. Many insect repellents contain DEET, picaridin, p-menthane, or other chemicals as the active ingredient to keep bugs away from you. You should not apply insect repellent over cut, wounded, or irritated skin and should thoroughly wash treated clothing before re-wearing it.
  • Use a bed mosquito net while sleeping. A mosquito net is a curtain that can be draped over your bed to protect from insect bites while you sleep. Bed nets treated with insecticides generally offer the most protection.
  • Wear long pants and shirts with sleeves. Especially at dusk and nighttime, wear clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Doing so reduces the amount of skin that insects can possibly bite.
  • Do not wear perfume. Mosquitoes are attracted to floral scents, so avoid cologne, perfume, and scented body wash.  

Safe Food & Water Practices

When traveling, it’s natural to want to sample the local cuisines. However, contaminated food and water frequently cause illnesses in voyagers, including the much-dreaded “travelers’ diarrhea.” There is a particularly high risk of sickness if one eats raw or undercooked foods. You should do your best to avoid:

  • Cooked food that has cooled down (such as sold by street vendors)
  • Salads
  • Fruit that hasn’t been washed and peeled
  • Raw vegetables
  • Unpasteurized dairy foods

Contaminated water is another leading cause of travel-related illnesses. You should only drink unopened or canned bottled beverages, such as water, soft drinks, or juice. Beverages made with boiled water, such as hot coffee or tea, should also be safe. Be mindful that ice cubes may be made from contaminated water that will make you sick. Do not put ice in your drinks unless you are certain the cubes were made from purified water. 

When Should You Contact a Doctor?

In many cases, the symptoms of travel-related illness may be uncomfortable but not directly life-threatening. Moderate bouts of diarrhea may be managed with adequate rest and fluid intake. Your primary care provider may give you an antibiotic to take on your trip to counter possible stomach problems. You should seek immediate medical care if you:

  • Have diarrhea that does not stop
  • Get sick with a high fever or become dehydrated
  • Suffer a serious physical injury
  • Become aware of the symptoms of a travel-related disease native to the area you’re in

Keep in mind that you should always check that your health care plan covers care received outside of the country before leaving on your trip. If your insurance plan does not cover care received outside of the U.S., you may want to purchase additional coverage for the duration of your trip. When it comes time to select a doctor while in another country, you should check their record carefully for past medical malpractice cases, patient complaints, or potential issues with your insurance coverage. 

Enjoy Safe Travels Through Proactive Preparation during Your Vacation

When it comes to traveling, having a well-crafted plan in place to address any major health concerns you may reasonably encounter can help your trip go smoothly. Be sure to research your destination(s) carefully to ensure you have a good understanding of any potential hazards and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. We hope you enjoy safe travels over the years to come!

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