Thinking about taking a trip this summer? Whether you're planning to travel within or outside the U.S., you're not alone. The summer months are the most popular time for people to jump in the car or on a plane, train, bike, RV and anything else that will take you from 'here' to 'there'. However, one of the biggest risks you'll face while traveling this summer is catching diseases or infections that are inherent to the area you are visiting.
Inside the U.S., you may feel somewhat "safer," but that's not necessarily true. It's important to protect your health anywhere you roam. Before you head out the door, do some research about the location(s) you'll be visiting. Read reviews on cleanliness, pests and other issues so you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family. For international travel, especially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide resources about other countries you'll need to know, like what diseases they carry and how to protect yourself.
Below are some tips to think about before you start traveling, to help your travels be fun, safe and healthy:
- Watch your mouth – Airborne diseases are an issue in any country. When someone sneezes, coughs or even laughs, you can be hit by invisible saliva particles and airborne germs that lead to both major and minor health issues like the common cold and flu, chickenpox, measles, smallpox and tuberculosis. If you're traveling outside the U.S, or if you have a compromised immune system (or if you simply don't want to get sick or exposed to an illness), you can wear a medical mask when out in public. It may seem silly, but not only can it save your life, it can also save your trip.
- Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize – Washing your hands is a critical component of staying healthy at any point in time, but especially while traveling. There are some nasty diseases out in the world and keeping your hands clean is a major preventative measure for staying healthy. Carry hand sanitizer with you everywhere. Make it a habit to sanitize frequently while traveling, especially before you eat. Although sanitizer is a must, washing your hands properly and frequently is too. Do both to stave off many types of illnesses.
- Vaccinate – You'll need to get vaccinated if you plan to travel internationally. You and your kids may be up-to-date on the standard vaccinations, but those apply to diseases mostly found in the U.S. You should find out if you need to get any additional vaccinations to protect you against diseases prevalent in the area you will be visiting. Outside of the U.S., there are plenty of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, meningitis, rabies, yellow fever, typhoid, and hepatitis A and B that ravage the international community where healthcare standards aren't the same--and there aren't vaccines available for some of them. To prevent some more common issues like malaria and dengue fever, which are brought on by mosquito bites, you can take some practical steps like using DEET bug repellent and a mosquito net.
- Eat Smart – Sampling the local food is one of the great things about traveling. In the U.S., food preparers are held to a certain standard that countries outside the U.S. do not adhere to. Because of lesser food standards outside the U.S., you may run into issues with unwashed hands, improperly cooked food, or unrefrigerated foods--all of which can make you extremely ill. For example, a common travel illness, hepatitis-A, is found in food contaminated with human feces. With that in mind, avoid eating anything raw or undercooked unless you or someone you know and trust did the prep work. Also, stay away from anything unpasteurized.
- Drink Smart – A well-known travel trip, if you're traveling internationally, is never to drink the local water. Every country has their own strains of bacteria and other germs, and your body isn't used to them. You will react poorly if you consume them. You also won't be able to fight them off like you would at home. Why let diarrhea, vomiting, fever (and worse) ruin your trip? Only use bottled water, even for brushing your teeth. Don't even put ice made from local water into your drink – it carries the same risks.