As the kids wrap up another school year, many of us are planning to travel. Whether you are traveling within the United States or to another country, there are several things you can do to avoid illness and enjoy your trip to the fullest.
Let’s start with getting there. Whether you are flying or driving, be sure to stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol, especially if you are flying because the dry air on the plane is very dehydrating. Road trippers should stop to get out and walk around and flyers should get up and move about once every hour or so. You can also flex and relax your calf muscles and feet, roll your ankles and clench and spread out your toes while in your seat if you are flying or are not the driver.
No matter where you are going, be sure to get enough sleep. Being rested is good for your immune system and will help you stay healthy while away from home. There are always more things to see than there is time to see them, but you’ll enjoy what you do experience more if you are well rested and not bleary eyed and worn out. I recommend melatonin to patients adjusting to time zone changes. Eating and going to bed at the normal hours of the time zone you are in helps reset your internal clock to local time too.
Just like at home, hand washing is essential to reducing your risk of getting sick. I also recommend carrying hand sanitizer to use when you are in a situation where you cannot wash your hands.
For less developed and tropical travel, I recommend checking the CDC’s Travelers’ Health website (wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel) for advice specific to the location you are planning to visit, including vaccination recommendations. You should always discuss this information with a medical professional, preferably one who specializes in travel medicine. Meeting with your provider 4 to 6 weeks before you travel for a complete travel consultation, including an allergy assessment and a review of your current prescriptions, medical conditions and immunization history will ensure you have the appropriate recommendations.
Travel clinics like the ones at Kaiser Permanente and other health care systems are good resources for receiving travel consultations and information on staying healthy before you go abroad. If the travel clinic near you is not part of the health care system you are in, have a copy of your medical records sent to the clinic before your appointment so they can review your history and recommend vaccinations and preventive medicine for diseases like malaria.
Plan ahead if you will be traveling anywhere there are mosquitoes and other biting insects. I encourage treating clothing with permethrin and disciplined use of 30-50 percent DEET or 20 percent Picaridin on exposed skin to avoid insect bites. Mosquitos activity during the day may transmit dengue fever, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya and other nasty viruses. Nighttime mosquitoes mostly transmit malaria and Japanese encephalitis.
Drink only bottled water and eat only cooked foods or thick-skinned fruits while visiting underdeveloped countries. Don’t forget to brush your teeth and wash your face with bottled water.
It is gross, but a fact of life that in underdeveloped countries you are at high risk of getting traveler’s diarrhea even if you do everything right. I always carry bismuth subsalicylate tablets and loperamide caplets for milder cases of diarrhea. More severe cases may require treatment with other medication, including antibiotics. If your physician prescribes antibiotics to take with you in case of a severe case of traveler’s diarrhea, be sure you are clear about when it is appropriate to take them.
Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.