The trip is booked, you are excited, you have taken care of the last minute loose ends at home and work, and you are beginning to pack for your trip! You’ve had your recommended travel shots but what else can you do to prepare yourself for a safe and healthy trip?
As you travel be mindful of your body’s need to stay hydrated. Some travel destinations, however, do not have tap water which is safe to drink.
Some frequently traveled locations where you should not consume the local tap water include Mexico, Africa, Puerto Rico, India, Peru, and the Middle East. Avoid ice and drink only bottled water, using it also to brush your teeth. In general, the tap water in most of Europe is actually safe to drink. However, there are some locations where you should stick to bottled water. The CDC has a list of destinations, where you can investigate the safety of drinking water. Additionally, you can take with you a water bottle with a filter and/or water purification tablets.
Travelers’ Diarrhea (TD) is common in travels to areas where hygiene is poor, including Mexico, Africa, Central and South America and the Middle East. It is usually caused by bacteria such as Escherichia coli, but parasites and viruses can also be the culprit. Prevention is the key; so, wash your hands frequently and avoid eating raw vegetables, fruits you have not peeled yourself, unpasteurized dairy products and juices, undercooked shellfish and cooked food not served steaming hot. Drink bottled water and avoid tap water and ice. Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) can be taken (2 chewable tablets, 4 times a day) for the duration of travel to prevent diarrhea. Antibiotics are not usually recommended in the healthy population to prevent TD.
If you develop mild TD, it can be treated with Pepto-Bismol and limiting your diet to soup, soda crackers, dry toast, jello and ginger ale. Packets of oral rehydration salts can be dissolved in bottled water to prevent and treat dehydration resulting from TD. The addition of over-the-counter antimotility agents such as Loperamide (Imodium A-D) may also be useful; however, these medicines may cause significant post-treatment constipation. Various antibiotics can be prescribed by your physician for moderate-severe TD with Azithromycin currently the preferred treatment.
Most insects pretty much keep to themselves and don’t cause any harm. And then there are those pesky mosquitos and ticks. Aside from the annoyance of the bites and buzzing, they are potentially dangerous as well. Mosquitos feed on blood and can transmit diseases when going from meal to meal. Their bites leave red, itchy welts and can transmit many diseases like malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, as well as viruses including West Nile, chikungunya, and Zika. The mosquitos which transmit viruses bite most often in the early morning and late afternoon while those transmitting malaria have peak activity at night, between dusk and dawn. Avoid outdoor activities during these peak mosquito-biting times. Ticks can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, the rickettsia that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever and the Powassan virus. Refer to our article “How to Protect Yourself from Malaria” (and other insect related illnesses).
When you are packing for your vacation, make sure that you have all of your prescription medications in their prescription bottles. Bring a handy list of your medical conditions (paper and digital) with each prescription that you are taking for these conditions and keep the list with you at all times. Know the generic names of your prescriptions to make it easier for a doctor to recognize the medication if needed while abroad. You may need to make an appointment with your doctor to speak to them about your upcoming travel plans. They may be able to give you an extended prescription if needed, depending upon on the length of your travel.
Vacations are all about relaxation, enjoying yourself, and experiencing new destinations and exciting activities. To keep healthy and maximize your experience, research ahead of time about any health concerns you may have at your upcoming destinations by using the CDC’s Travelers’ Health Tool.
Safe and healthy travels to you!
Med Lett Drugs Ther. 2021 Jul 12;63(1628):108-112.
Insect Repellents | The Medical Letter Inc.
Med Lett Drugs Ther. 2019 Oct 7;61(1582):153-160.
Advice for Travelers | The Medical Letter Inc.