While Americans' appetite for unusual and exotic vacations is fueling an exploding travel trend, many tourists fail to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from disease abroad.
However, experts say that the No. 1 health threat to tourists is food- and water-borne disease, and that a pre-departure check-in with a doctor and some common-sense measures post-arrival can protect most tourists from most travel health risks.
Tips For Healthy Travel
1. Use sunscreen to protect against sunburn.
2. Using a reliable insect repellant, such as DEET, to prevent insect bites, is another must-do.
3. Drink bottled water only. Make sure drinks have no ice cubes.
4. Make sure food is cooked thoroughly and served very hot. Avoid eating local produce, raw or undercooked food, or food from street vendors and local peddlers.
5. Wash hands thoroughly before eating.
6. Tattoos, acupuncture, piercings, intravenous drug use and similar activities involving needles should be avoided at all costs.
7. Do not have sexual contact with members of the local population.
8. Visit your family doctor or travel medicine specialist before departure. Inform the doctor of the specific regions you plan to visit and what you plan to do there. Follow the doctor's advice in terms of recommended immunizations or preventative medications, such as anti-malarial drugs.
9. If you take a prescription medication, bring enough medicine to safely cover the entire trip. Do not assume you will be able to get a prescription filled in country. As a backup, bring along a prescription for the generic name for the drug. Even if you can get your prescription filled, the brand name of the drug may not be recognized or available in the country you are visiting. Additionally, a prescription will protect you from problems you may encounter transporting medications across borders.
10. If you wear eyeglasses, make sure to pack a spare pair.
11. Do not take very young children to areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where drug-resistant strains of malaria are present.
12. The more exotic the location you plan to visit, the more important it is to seek out expert pre-travel health advice. Even if you book your hotel and flight yourself, seek out the advice of a travel agent specializing in the region who can advise you on health concerns and refer you to a travel medicine specialist.
13. If you get sick after your return home, make sure to mention past travel to your doctor, even if you've been home for months. Some diseases, such as malaria, can take time to present symptoms and are easily misdiagnosed by doctors unaware that a patient has been exposed. Such a misdiagnosis can turn a treatable disease into a deadly one.