The last thing anyone wants is to get sick on their summer getaway, but with a little preparation, you can reduce the risk of your trip being ruined — or worse, getting seriously ill.
There’s nothing like the thrill of a good old-fashioned summer vacation. Getting away from it all can make you feel so carefree, but it’s still important to prepare for the possibility of illness. So whether you’re traveling in the United States or heading abroad, follow these suggestions to help reduce your risk for sickness.
1. Prevent bug bites
Mosquito bites are annoyingly itchy, but when you’re traveling to certain areas, that may be the least of your problems. Mosquitoes, along with fleas, ticks and some flies, can also spread serious diseases such as Zika, malaria, dengue, chikungunya and Lyme disease. In the United States alone, illnesses from mosquito, tick and flea bites have tripled in the last 13 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
To protect yourself from bites, the CDC recommends applying an Environmental Protection Agency–registered insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-3,8-diol or 2-Undecanone, after applying sunscreen, and also wearing long sleeves and pants. Pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant should talk to their doctor before traveling to areas where Zika may be present, because of the risk of certain birth defects. The CDC provides up-to-date information and recommendations on its Zika travel information page.
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2. Protect against sun exposure
A day at the beach can be ruined by a bad sunburn, but it can also lead to long-term consequences such as skin cancer. Experts estimate that four out of five cases of skin cancer could be prevented by protecting against the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.
To help lower your risk for skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapplying as directed. You should also stay in the shade and wear long sleeves and pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. When you’re in the sun or a hot climate, you should also drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and heat-related illness.
3. Get your vaccinations
You may be aware that you need certain vaccinations for travel to developing countries, but you should make sure you’re up-to-date on all your regular vaccines as well, including flu and measles.
“It’s best to see your primary care physician four to six weeks before you travel, so you can receive the vaccines you need based on your travel destination,” says Rose Taroyan, MD, MPH, a family medicine physician at Keck Medicine of USC and a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
4. Eat and drink safely
No one wants their trip ruined by travelers’ diarrhea, the most common travel-related illness. If you’re traveling to Central or South America, Mexico, most of Asia (except Japan), the Middle East or Africa, the CDC says that you may be at higher risk for travelers’ diarrhea, due to contaminated food and water that can make you sick.
You can avoid travelers’ diarrhea by drinking beverages from sealed bottles or cans; avoiding ice made from tap water; eating foods that are freshly cooked and served hot; and avoiding raw fruits and veggies, unless you peel them or wash them in clean water. You may also want to avoid getting tap water in your mouth when showering or brushing your teeth (use bottled water instead).
5. Wash your hands
You may let your normal habits slide when you’re on vacation, but it’s just as important for disease prevention to keep up a handwashing routine to avoid getting sick while traveling. If you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially before eating.
6. Admire animals from afar
You probably know to avoid approaching wild animals, but all animals can be harboring ticks or fleas that carry disease. In some places, rabies is a problem, so you want to avoid being scratched, bitten or even licked by an infected animal. Treatment might be hard to come by in the country you’re visiting, so a preventive rabies vaccination may be recommended. Talk to your doctor before your trip.
7. Pack a travel health kit
In the event that illness does strike, it always helps to be prepared, especially as medicines might not be readily available in other countries. Carry over-the-counter medicines for diarrhea, bug bites and colds; you should also have first aid supplies. Remember to take along any prescription medications, your health insurance card and a medical alert bracelet if you have a specific condition. It’s also advisable to check out what health and emergency services are available in your destination.
by Tina Donvito