Travel Health (cont.)
IN THIS ARTICLE
Precautions Along the Way
Traveling comes with a whole new set of things to think about. The following can help you stay healthy and enjoy your trip as much as possible.
Tips for flying
Flying is not always fun. But you can take steps to make it easier and to feel better during and after your flight.
Water and food safety
Contaminated water and food are the most common cause of illness in travelers. These illnesses range from an inconvenient case of travelers' diarrhea and the norovirus (Norwalk virus) seen on cruise ships to severe cholera.
It's hard to know if tap water is properly treated, so most doctors recommend avoiding tap water if there is any doubt. Safe beverages include drinks made with boiled water, such as tea and coffee. Or drink only canned or bottled carbonated beverages (including bottled water and soft drinks) and beer and wine. Ice should also be considered contaminated and should not be used in drinks. Dry the opening of wet cans or bottles before taking a drink. Remember not to brush your teeth with tap water.
Travelers to backcountry areas of North America should also take precautions with water. Even though the water in high mountain lakes looks sparkling clear, it may be contaminated with Giardia intestinalis, the parasite that causes giardiasis. Take simple precautions to avoid this illness, such as boiling the water.
Likewise, swimming in contaminated fresh water, such as ponds or rivers, can expose you to diseases. Even swimming pools with inadequate chlorination pose a risk. Talk to your doctor if you plan on doing recreational water sports—such as white-water rafting, adventure racing, or kayaking—in tropical and backcountry regions.
Take precautions with food by avoiding raw fruits (unless you wash and peel them yourself), raw vegetables, and raw or undercooked meat and seafood. Steaming hot, well-cooked food is usually the safest. Although tempting, don't eat food or drink from street vendors. Make sure dairy products have been pasteurized.
For more information, see the topic Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling.
To prevent fungal or parasitic infections and injuries, do not go barefoot. Try to keep your feet as clean and dry as possible.
Although sea water is usually safe from disease, swimming or diving in sea water can still be dangerous. Avoid swimming or wading in sea water near a river, estuary, or other outlet from inland. Swimming when you have an open cut or sore can also increase your risk of getting an infection. In developing countries, sea water around big cities and other populated areas may not be safe. For more information, see the topic Marine Stings and Scrapes.
Malaria is the insect-borne disease of most concern to travelers in tropical and subtropical regions. Although antimalarial medicines kill the malaria parasite in the bloodstream, this protection is not complete and mosquito bites should be avoided. To ward off mosquitoes, travelers should take protective measures along with the antimalarial medicine. Here are some tips:
Ticks inhabit many regions, including Europe, Canada, and the United States, and carry many diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever, South African tick-bite fever, and babesiosis. Although it is rare for travelers to contract diseases from ticks, many of these diseases are serious. For information on how to prevent tick bites, see the Prevention section of the topic Tick Bites.
Sun and heat exposure
Many travelers underestimate the sun's strength and overestimate the amount of protection their sunscreens offer. This can add up to at least an uncomfortable sunburn and, at worst, life-threatening heatstroke.
To avoid these complications:
Although disease presents a big risk while you are traveling, you should also be aware of potential sources of injury. Bad roads, poor driver training, and crowded roadways can make driving dangerous in other countries. Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of injury among travelers. Learn local driving customs, road signs, and how to navigate unfamiliar traffic patterns, including driving on the left side of the road and using roundabouts or traffic circles. If possible, travel during daylight. And always use seat belts. If you are hiring a driver (such as in a taxi), ask the driver to slow down or drive more carefully if you feel unsafe. When riding motorcycles or bicycles, wear helmets and protective clothing.
Take care around dogs and other animals. Dogs in developing countries are often not tame and may bite. Rabies is more common in tropical and subtropical regions. If you are bitten by an animal, wash the bite with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.
Most wounds sustained in developing countries carry a higher risk of becoming infected. If you get even a minor wound, clean the wound as soon as possible with large amounts of warm water and soap. Apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage. But it is good to know that in some people, antibiotic ointments (such as Neosporin) can cause an allergic reaction that looks just like a wound infection that is getting worse.
Altitude sickness happens when you can't get enough oxygen from the air at high altitudes. This causes symptoms such as a headache and loss of appetite. It happens most often when people who are not used to high altitudes go quickly from lower altitudes to 8000 ft (2438 m) or higher. Initial symptoms may feel like a hangover, with a headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. If symptoms become worse or include confusion, an unsteady gait (ataxia), or faintness, a traveler must go to a low altitude as fast as possible to avoid death. To avoid getting altitude sickness:
For more information, see the topic Altitude Sickness.
Scuba diving safety
Safety is an important part of scuba diving. You will learn all about safety in your scuba diving certification class. If you plan to get certified while traveling, find an experienced, certified teacher that you feel comfortable with. Several groups, including the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), certify instructors and dive shops all over the world.
There are many important safety precautions for divers. If you are a new diver, it is best to go with an experienced guide, also called a dive master. Most accidents and problems occur when divers ignore the rules and push their limits. Some general diving rules include:
People can feel sick from the motion of cars, planes, trains, boats, or ships. After you start to feel sick, it can be hard to feel better until the motion has stopped. If you know you get motion sickness, pack medicines to prevent it. There are both prescription and over-the-counter medicines for motion sickness. For more information, see the topic Motion Sickness.
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