In my previous blog, I discussed certain things that we tend to forget about when we travel, such as not drinking the tap water in certain countries, or even avoiding certain foods that were not washed properly. In part two of our travels, we discuss prevention, because prevention is always better than any cure on the market!
Part Two – Prevention:
How do we prevent getting sick during vacation? As a nurse, mother, and traveler, I’ll start with the obvious choice – handwashing!
The simple act of washing your hands can go a long, long way, especially when you’re traveling. Handwasing is key in reducing the spread of infection, which, in turn, reduces your chances of food poisoning, MRSA, Hepatitis A, influenza, vomiting, and even diarrhea – all symptoms of flu and bacterial germs and/or parasites.
A good dose of warm, soapy water poured and scrubbed all over your wrists and hands, in between fingers and under finger nails, then rinsed with warm water and thoroughly blotted dry is a big start in staying healthy during vacation.
Remember to ALWAYS wash your hands under hot water for at least thirty seconds before and after eating and always after going to the bathroom.
Handwashing can only go so far, so carrying some hand gel or a pack of handy wipes is a good back up for two reasons. First, when you’re not sure how pure the tap water is and second, to wipe down surfaces. Wipe down door knobs, handrails, phone receivers, elevator buttons, public faucets, upholstered dining chairs, community utensils from buffets, locker keys, tv remotes, and anything else you might need to touch that may be harboring bacteria.
Speaking of tap water, if your vacation destination brings you internationally, where the purity of tap water may be unsure, you may want to switch to bottled water. Be extremely sure the seal on the bottle is shut tight before purchasing it. Using bottled water to brush your teeth and wash your face may be a smart idea. Inquire about filtered water in the hotels.
Nothing says “vacation” like local fairs and street food, especially when the food is caught right from the river and cooked in front of us. But be careful – are gloves worn by the person cooking your food? Have they washed their hands? What are they cooking the food with, or in? Are they handling money at the same time they’re cooking food? Are the raw veggies and the meats sitting in the sun uncovered? What about flies? UGH!!!
Be certain that whatever food you decide to eat is fresh, served hot and cooked well. Food poisoning and food contamination carries a variety of bacteria, the most common being E. coli, Salmonella, Cyclospora and Shigella. Nobody wants to spend half their vacation in the bathroom with GI problems from spoiled food!
In certain countries, you may want to avoid eating raw vegetables because you don’t what was used to fertilize them. Also, unpasteurized milk and some cheeses may cause food borne illnesses too.
If you have a sensitive stomach to begin with, as much as you want to live like the native islanders, you may want to stay away from certain spices and spicy meats. If your gut isn’t used to eating them, you may want to opt for a blander native dish (drinks included). Cramps, bloating, gas and heartburn can ruin any person’s day. Remember GI symptoms can take up to 48 hours to appear.
Avoid doing something over-the-top crazy, like getting a tattoo from a parlor you are not familiar with. Bringing home Hepatitis along with a new tattoo might not be the best vacation memory after all!
Feel a little irregular? Haven’t hydrated well? Add some fitness to your vacation, like a little light and easy workout. It can strengthen your immune system, make you drink more water, and restore regularity. Take a brisk walk, go for a hike or a bike ride, swim or walk in the pool. Just get moving!
Lather on sunblock at least SPF 30 or more. And be smart enough to reapply after swimming, exercise, and after a few hours of being outside. Most of us don’t realize how strong the sun can get in other parts of the country. Don’t be afraid to apply that sunblock! You can get a sunburn even if you are out in the water snorkeling, or on a cloudy day!
Always remember to stay hydrated if you plan to be outside in the sun. Heat exhaustion, heat stroke and dehydration can happen very quickly. Wearing a hat and loose clothing, drinking water and applying sunblock are extremely important!
There is a great deal of controversy surrounding vaccinations but, as a nurse, I feel that if you’re traveling internationally, reduce the risk of catching a disease by vaccinating yourself beforehand. The CDC agrees with me. Make an appointment with your healthcare professional AT LEAST two months before your planned trip, especially if your travels are taking you internationally.
Mosquitos and protection. Getting bitten by a mosquito is scary. I have had had welts on my arms for months. Mosquitos transmit all kinds of dangerous disease, like yellow fever and even malaria. Check the CDC website for outbreaks on these dangerous diseases, especially if you are venturing out to a high risk area.
To reduce your chances of mosquito bites, cover your skin by wearing loose, breathable clothing. Mosquitos are attracted to sweaty bodies, which is why swimming after dark always brings out those pesky little creatures!
Rooms that are air-conditioned keep out mosquitos best. If you prefer opened windows with screens, make sure the screens don’t have any holes in them. If you’re staying in huts, tents, or forests, protect yourself by sleeping under permethrin-coated nets. For added protection, apply some natural green mosquito repellent and re-apply it often. Citronella candles, torches, and plug-ins are also helpful in keeping mosquitos away.
If your travels lead you to high-risk malaria areas, talk to your healthcare provider about antimalarials before you even think of beginning your journey there.
Pack your own homemade first aid kit. Include sunblock, an anti-inflammatory, which helps pain and sunburns, an antacid, to help control heartburn and diarrhea, topical ointments, for treating sunburn, rashes, and cuts, and bandages to keep open cuts clean.
Next time you are planning a trip of a lifetime, or even just a two-day get-away, look for ways to prevent sickness so you and your traveling companions can enjoy your paradise as planned.
Keep these tips in mind, but always remember to check with your health care provider, travel agent, and important world sites like the CDC and World Health Organization for the latest up-to-date information.
Happy and safe travels to all!