Making the right health preparations for international travel

As travel season begins to warm up, and millions of people hit the airways and highways, knowing how to prepare yourself from a health standpoint is part of being savvy on the road. Especially if you are planning to travel internationally, taking the right precautions and observing certain rules can make the difference between happy travel and a spoiled trip.

These days, people are venturing further than the Eiffel Tower, choosing even more exotic destinations like Patagonia, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia or Java. As an inveterate global traveler, I have learned that one important aspect of preparation is getting the proper vaccinations. If you are going to step off into wilder conditions, it’s wise to go to a travel clinic and get inoculations for Hepatitis A and B, yellow fever and tetanus. Is this overkill? Hardly.

Hepatitis A and B are common viral infections of the liver that are easily transmitted. Hepatitis A arises from fecal contamination of food and water, and hepatitis B arises from sexual contact or living in close quarters with someone infected. While the risk of liver failure or death is low in both cases, chronic infection and ongoing sickness are common.

In the case of yellow fever, symptoms can include a simple fever or nausea, vomiting and weakness, as well as liver damage with internal bleeding. Yellow fever is a virus transmitted by Aedes or Haemagogus species of mosquitoes, and it is found in both South America and Asia.

Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani. This bacterium, found in soil, dust and manure, enters the body through wounds. If, for example, you step on a nail that is tainted with the bacteria, you can get tetanus.

In the cases of hepatitis A and B, yellow fever and tetanus, vaccinations renewed every ten years can virtually eliminate the risk of incurring these difficult and occasionally fatal diseases. As the Boy Scouts say: Be prepared.

Drinking pure water is another key factor. If you are in a country where the tap water is suspect, it’s advisable to bring a portable water filter and a water bottle. Sure, you can often buy water in plastic bottles, but sometimes that water is no better than what flows from the tap, and plastic bottles are a huge waste problem. Several companies, like Pur and Katadyn, make easy-to-use water filters that can quickly provide you with clean, fresh, safe drinking water. I’ve been traveling with a water filter since the early 1980s and can’t recommend this highly enough.

Probiotics are friendly bacteria that help to keep your body’s inner colonies of valuable digestive bacteria alive. Doing so can enhance digestion and keep you regular. I am a fan of Pearls IC, made by Wisconsin-based Enzymatic Therapy. These little pearls are easy to take, and they can help to reduce the risk of digestive upset from eating foods in a different culture. In this instance, the bacteria are our friends.

Don’t forget the first aid basics either. A small stash of bandages and some iodine and alcohol swabs can come in handy if you get a cut or a puncture while traveling. Pure Manuka Essential Oil – available at natural foods stores – is an excellent anti-bacterial application. I’m never without these when I’m on the road. Also, if you are going to an underdeveloped nation, it’s a good idea to carry your own syringes. Better to get a needed shot with your needle, not theirs – if it comes to that. Most good travel clinics will give you several to carry.

For last-minute emergency infections, I also recommend that you bring along a small bottle of 500 milligram CIPRO tablets. Ciprofloxacin, a potent broad-spectrum antibiotic, is my last resort remedy if I succumb to a debilitating bacterial digestive infection. If you find yourself on the toilet dozens of times per day, fast in the strangling grip of uncontrollable diarrhea, you could be a candidate for CIPRO. I take one in the evening and one in the morning, and that regimen has never failed me. Use sparingly, and spend on fresh tablets every six months.

On the natural side, bring along Ginger Chews to relieve travel sickness or common digestive wooziness. Ginger works every bit as well as, and often better than drugs. Ginger Chews are also delightful to eat.

Lastly, I recommend that you travel with a good balm or salve for any and all bad things that can happen to your skin. I favor Herbal Ed’s Healing Salve by Herb Pharm of Oregon. Badger Balm from New Hampshire is also good. For sore muscles, a small jar of the potent analgesic Tiger Balm can spell blessed relief.

Everything you need as a health aid can fit into one small bag and should be readily accessible. By following these simple guidelines and remembering to travel prepared, you can eliminate many common hazards as you explore this amazing world.