Staying Healthy When You're Away From Home
The best way to stay healthy on your trip is to plan before you go. If you are planning to travel to another country, see a doctor several months before you leave so you will have time for vaccines (immunizations) that you may need to get ahead of time. Also ask your doctor if there are medicines or extra safety steps that you should take. For example, if you have asthma, you may have to avoid stays in polluted cities. Or someone visiting the tropics may need to take medicine to prevent malaria.
Where can you get the best information?
You can use the Internet to find general travel health information. Just make sure that the information is up-to-date and from a reliable source. See the following websites before you travel:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: This site has information on travel health and safety, required immunizations, and disease outbreaks.
- World Health Organization: You'll find information on travel, recommended immunizations, and disease outbreaks throughout the world.
- U.S. State Department: This site has information on where to get the best medical care in the region you are visiting. It lists every U.S. embassy worldwide and lists some doctors and medical facilities in those countries. Take along the phone numbers and addresses of embassies in the areas you will visit.
Which immunizations and medicines will you need?
Vaccines that may be recommended include those for:
- Hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
- Yellow fever.
- Influenza or complications of pneumonia (pneumococcal vaccine).
- Typhoid fever.
- Polio, if you are traveling to areas where polio is common.
- Childhood infections, if they are not up-to-date for you and your children. These include shots for polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps, whooping cough, and rubella.
- Rabies, if you may be handling or near animals in parts of the world where rabies is common.
Visit the CDC site to find a clinic where you can get travel vaccines.
If you plan to visit an area where malaria is common, start taking medicine ahead of time to prevent malaria infection.
What precautions should you take while you travel?
Before you go, learn about the places you plan to visit. For example, find out if the water is safe to drink or if you need to worry about malaria.
Basic safety can prevent some problems:
- Developing countries may not have safe tap water. When visiting these places, drink only beverages made with boiled water, such as tea and coffee. Canned or bottled carbonated drinks are usually a safe choice. Don't use ice if you don't know what kind of water was used to make it.
- Do not eat raw vegetables, raw fruits, or raw or undercooked meat and seafood.
- In areas where mosquito-borne illnesses are found, use DEET insect repellent. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, especially from dusk to dawn. Use mosquito netting to protect yourself from bites while you sleep.
- Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of injury among travelers. If you drive, be sure to learn the custom and rules. If you use hired drivers (such as in a taxi), don't be afraid to ask your driver to slow down or to drive more carefully. Use seat belts if possible.
What if you get sick while you are traveling?
If you become seriously ill while traveling, your country's embassy or consulate can help you find medical care. If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in malaria-risk areas, get medical help right away.
Diarrhea is the most common illness to strike travelers. Most cases of traveler's diarrhea get better in 1 to 3 days without treatment. But see a doctor if diarrhea lasts longer than 7 days, or if you have a high fever, blood or mucus in your diarrhea, or signs of dehydration.
Should you see a doctor when you return?
If you were healthy during your trip and you feel well when you return home, you probably don't need to see a doctor.
See your doctor when you get home if either of the following occurs:
- You were sick with a fever or severe flu-like illness while traveling.
- You develop these symptoms within 6 months of coming home.
Tell your doctor the places you visited and whether you think you may have gotten a disease. Many diseases don't show up right away. And some can take weeks or months to develop.
The health educators at the Learning Resource Center are happy to help. They provide trusted & reliable health information and connect people to local resources in the community. Connect with a health educator today! Be well, be well informed.