Traveling to different climates and environments abroad can expose you to disease and health risks. You should be aware of the dangers and how to stay healthy. Diseases which aren’t present in the USA and UK such as yellow fever, malaria, rabies and dengue fever are common in some areas of the world. Traveling increases your chances of getting sick, especially during cold and flu season. But you don’t have to pick up a bug on your business trip or vacation. We have expert Travelers Health Tips that will help keep you well.
General Travelers Health Tips
- take out comprehensive travel insurance or you could face a huge medical bill if you fall ill and need treatment
- get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to entitle you to free or discounted healthcare in European countries
- check the health section of our country travel advice before you travel
- take enough medication for your whole trip and any unexpected delays
- drink plenty of water in hot climates to avoid dehydration
- be safe in the sun – use a high-factor sunscreen and avoid excessive sunbathing between 10am – 4pm
- find out the local emergency services numbers and the number of the local hospital
- practice safe sex – take condoms with you as quality varies in different countries. HIV and Aids, and other sexually transmitted diseases can be caught worldwide.
- don’t wear tight clothing on long-distance journeys
- do regular stretching exercises such as flexing and extending your ankles to avoid circulation problems
- walk round at regular intervals on long flights
- drink plenty of water on flights and avoid drinking too much alcohol.
Vaccinations and immunizations
Visit your GP as soon as possible to check if you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures (such as malaria tablets).
Consult your doctor before long-distance travel if you:
- are pregnant or have given birth in the last 6 months
- have a history of blood disorders, deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism
- are taking hormonal medication (including the contraceptive pill)
- have cancer, heart problems or have recently had surgery.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition
- tell your travel insurer about your condition
- ask your doctor how the trip might affect you
- check local conditions such as climate and pollution levels and consider how you might be affected
- carry a doctor’s letter and a copy of any prescriptions
- make sure you take enough medical supplies for the duration of your stay and any unexpected delays. Medical supplies may be subject to supply constraints in some countries and in remote areas
- ensure your medication is legal in the country you are visiting – contact the Embassy of the country to which you are traveling
- learn key words and phrases in the local language for your condition, medication and emergency help
- take the same precautions you normally would in the UK if you weren’t going to be at home for a while
- if you suffer from a mental illness you should be aware that facilities and local attitudes to mental health problems may differ from those in the UK. Do some research before you go.
Wherever your travels take you, the last souvenir you want to bring back is a nasty cold or flu. Cold symptoms like sneezing, cough or runny nose, or influenza symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and fatigue, are a surefire way to ruin a trip or homecoming. Yet the second you mingle with others on a plane or in a tourist spot, your chances of getting sick increase – especially during winter cold and flu season. You have more exposure to viruses from other people, so you’re more likely to get sick when you travel. Most colds and flu viruses are spread when someone within six feet sends germ-laden droplets your way by coughing or sneezing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can also get infected by touching a surface that a sick person has touched, and then rubbing your own nose, eyes or mouth. Touch a doorknob and someone’s flu virus can be on it. [Then] touch your mouth and you’re taking in someone else’s germs. So how do you prevent illness when traveling?
Here are 16 travelers health tips from top experts.
Travelers health tip #1: Get the shot.
The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone age 6 months and up as a first line of defense against the disease. If you haven’t had one, use your trip as an excuse. The vaccine [doesn’t provide] 100% protection, but it’s certainly worth getting. The shot takes two weeks to become effective, so get one well before you leave.
Travelers health tip #2: Wash up.
Keep hands clean by frequently and vigorously washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – that’s about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice or the “ABC” song once.
Travelers health tip #3: Use hand-sanitizing gel.
No soap and water around? Then keep your hands germ-free with a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. But use it correctly. Keep it on and let your hands air-dry to kill the virus and bacteria. Always pack your own in your purse or carry-on bag. Not having hand sanitizer when you travel by plane or other public transportation is like playing Russian roulette with the flu.
Travelers health tip #4: Pack wipes.
Hotel room surfaces are rife with germs, including cold-causing rhinoviruses, that can survive as long as 18 hours after contamination. Common germy items include the TV remote, telephone, bedside lamp switches and even hotel-logo pens. Carry antibacterial wipes in your travel kit to disinfect these objects before you touch them.
Travelers Health Tip #5: Avoid in-flight germs.
Airlines may not disinfect such surfaces as the tray table, overhead bin-handle and seat controls regularly. So clean them with antibacterial wipes before touching them. And beware the seat pocket and magazines on one flight they are more contaminated with bacteria than the bathroom door handle and toilet.
Travelers Health Tip #6: Let the air flow.
People cough and sneeze on planes, but increasing the ventilation around you helps create enough air force to push a viral particle away. Turn on the overhead air vent above your seat to medium and position it toward your face.
Travelers Health Tip #7: Don’t dry out.
When heading to a dry climate, keep the mucus lining of your nose moist, because that helps it keep out infection. Use a saline spray or nasal irrigation device (both commonly available at pharmacies) both before and after long flights as it washes out the virus and helps keep a moist barrier.
Travelers Health Tip #8: Deal with your seatmate.
What if you’re next to someone who’s sneezing, coughing or wiping their nose? Try to switch seats. But with many flights operating at full capacity, that might not be an option.
Airlines have no provision for, ‘I need to move because the dude in 9A is sick,’ So if you’re stuck near a sick person, politely offer them a clean tissue and ask if they would mind covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze and you can also offer [your seatmate] hand sanitizer in a caring way.
Travelers Health Tip #9: Stay hydrated.
Drink water or other liquids, especially if you’re on a long flight. Proper hydration is critical for a strong immune system, so drink water when you’re thirsty. If you keep yourself hydrated, your kidneys are working less and you keep everything cleaner and in tip-top shape.
Travelers Health Tip #10: Get enough sleep.
Sleep also keeps the immune system strong, and lack of it can make you susceptible to illness. For example, men and women who averaged fewer than seven hours of sleep per night were about three times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept at least eight hours, according to a 2009 study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. But travel often disrupts your sleep schedule. We’ve all been there – where you work all night until the trip and then go as tired as you can be. If you have a long overnight flight, are traveling to different time zones, or are worried you won’t be able to sleep, talk to your doctor about taking a sleep aid. Options include prescription drugs, such as zolpidem or Ambien – although be aware the FDA has recently recommended manufacturers lower doses for women from 10 mg to 5 mg due to the potential for daytime drowsiness – or an over-the-counter product such as melatonin, a natural hormone that helps trigger sleep.
Travelers Health Tip #11: Stay loose.
Changes in routine, diet and hydration can all make constipation more likely while traveling. So pack laxatives, fiber supplements, probiotics or whatever works best for you. Don’t allow yourself to get super-constipated. Your gut is an initial barrier of defense, and a malfunction of your intestines [can lead to] a malfunction of your immune system.
Travelers Health Tip #12: Take vitamin C.
Although the subject is still controversial after dozens of clinical trials, there’s enough evidence that vitamin C can help prevent colds by boosting the immune system. Travelers should take 500 milligrams twice a day, beginning a few days before a trip and throughout their travels. Or get more vitamin C from food – an orange has 87 mg; a serving of broccoli has 132 mg.
Travelers Health Tip #13: Sip green tea.
Studies have shown that the beverage may help prevent colds.. A chemical compound known as Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) – which green tea has more of than other teas – stopped replication of adenovirus, one common cold bug, according to a 2003 study at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada. Since most airlines don’t serve green tea, at least in coach class, bring your own bags.
Travelers Health Tip #14: Take American ginseng.
The one natural supplement proven to be an effective immune-booster is North American ginseng (which is different from other kinds of ginseng, such as Korean) Taking it as a tincture, or liquid extract, when you travel.
Take 10 drops daily, under your tongue, and hold there for a minute. It revs up your immune system’s natural killer cells, and interferes with how influenza attaches to cells in your body. People who took an extract of American ginseng twice a day for four months were 16% less likely to catch a cold, and were sick for 35% less time if they did catch one, according to a 2006 clinical study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Travelers Health Tip #15: Avoid public toilets.
If you have a cabin on a cruise ship or guestroom in a hotel, use your own facilities, and avoid public ones whenever possible. By touching faucets and doorknobs, you’ll often leave public bathrooms with more germs than you came in with. When you can’t avoid public facilities, use a tissue to open the door as you exit to avoiding getting germs on the hands you just washed.
Travelers Health Tip #16: Exercise, but in moderation.
Use the hotel’s gym, walk regularly or get other activity daily. Aerobic exercise can temporarily boost your immune system, allowing you to shake a cold or flu virus faster. Brisk walking for 20 minutes a day cut sick days due to colds, flu and sore throats by 25%-50%, according to 2011 study at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. But overexertion can have the opposite effect. Other Appalachian State studies found that people who exercised at high intensity for 90 minutes or more had reduced immunity and were more likely to get sick for up to 72 hours afterward.
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