Staying Healthy While Traveling

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Staying healthy while traveling begins before you travel by being prepared with knowledge, prevention and protection techniques. For students traveling internationally your travel consult at the International Travel Clinic will assist you in planning, being prepared and knowing what to do if you do become ill while traveling. The following topics are a brief overview of some of the items that may be discussed during your consultation.

First of all, learn about where you will be traveling. The exact destination is best to investigate and not the overall country as there may be large differences of disease patterns and health care accessibility within a country. Self declare to the nurse consultant any food allergies or other medical conditions that you may have so that these can be addressed in a proactive fashion

During your travels, your normal schedule is uprooted and changed. It is difficult at times to remember to take medications, eat well, get enough sleep and be careful of the water. These things are extremely important to staying healthy while traveling.

Food and Water Precautions

  • Eat carefully if traveling to a country with an increased risk of traveler’s diarrhea.
  • Wash your hands before eating or use a hand sanitizer
  • Eat foods that are steaming hot and well-cooked, as these are usually the safest.
  • Avoid eating food from street vendors, no matter how appetizing they look.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products and raw or uncooked seafood
  • Peel fruits yourself
  • Drink commercially bottled water or carbonated beverages
  • Avoid ice
  • Use bottled water when brushing your teeth
  • If you know that filtered water may be difficult to aqcquire, purchase a water filter. Talk to an ITC nurse about the characteristics of a good water filter.

Mosquito Borne Illnesses

There are three main diseases that are mosquito borne. They are dengue fever, yellow fever, and malaria. Each of these diseases can be avoided by prevention through pretravel vaccination, medication or insect repellant.

If you are traveling to a country with an increased risk of malaria, take a prescription of preventive medicine for this disease. The medication needs to be taken before you go on your trip, during your trip and for days or weeks after you return. The ITC nurse consultant will be able to assist you with the correct type of medication as it relates to the destination(s) of travel. If you are stopping in a country with a risk of yellow fever or actually going to visit a country with a yellow fever risk, you must receive the yellow fever vaccination at least 10 days before travel. This vaccination can only be found at certain certified sites. The ITC is a certified site.

Dengue fever is on the rise in many countries within the last 5 years. There are 4 types of dengue and there is no cross sero protection among them. There are no prevention or treatment medications for this disease. If you are traveling to a country with an increased risk of disease transmitted by mosquitoes, be sure to protect yourself with insect repellents, special clothing, and bednets while traveling in these areas. Sunscreen should be applied frequently and 30 minutes before applying insect repellent.

Traveler's Diarrhea

Traveler's diarrhea (TD) is rarely life-threatening, although it can make us feel miserable. Countries with higher risk for infection are in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Indian Subcontinent. The severity and duration of TD depends on the microorganisms consumed in contaminated food or water. Common symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and malaise.

How to treat TD (Traveler's Diarrhea)

  • For moderate diarrhea (3-5 stools per day) first take pepto bismol (as directed). Diarrhea requires you to drink 2-3 safe water or hydration drinks per day to stay properly hydrated.
  • Severe diarrhea requires a person to drink 2-3 liters of oral rehydration fluids followed by safe water to avoid dehydration. Diarrhea makes you feel miserable, but dehydration can also kill you.
  • To make oral hydration fluid, add 1 tsp. salt and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar to 1 liter safe water or take Gatorade with you. Do not rehydrate with coffee, coke, water or artificial sweetner drinks.
  • Consume a diet of "BRAT" (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast/tea) and foods that constipate, including crackers, cooked carrots and breads.
  • Avoid raw fruits and vegetables, greasy or spicy foods, alcohol, dairy products, and caffeinated beverages.
  • Take the antibiotic that you have been given (Cipro or Azithromycin) when you are experiencing moderate to severe diarrhea. If the antibiotic is not helping after the second dose and the diarrhea continues, seek medical help.

Only take Immodium or Lomotil when you are taking an antibiotic for TD. Do not take any antimotility medications by itself as it does not kill the bacteria creating the problem.

Diarrhea is not the only reason to stay hydrated. Heat and sun exposure can quickly dehydrate you. Drink 8-10 glasses (8oz) per day of fluid (not just water) to stay hydrated and avoid heat exposure.

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