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Safe Travels: Don’t Let Illness Spoil Your Summer Vacation

The coming Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of the summer travel season, but whether you stay healthy or get sick may depend on the preparations you make before you leave, a top expert says.

“Just like you make preparations for a trip you also need to prepare ahead of time so you don’t spoil your vacation by getting sick during your trip or when you get home,” Dr. Brent W. Laartz tells Newsmax Health.

“When you’re on vacation you need to be observant of the conditions that could harm you,” says Laartz, author of the book “How to Avoid Contagious Diseases.”

Travel-related ailments can range from the very serious, like Ebola and malaria, to milder, self-limiting ones like a diarrheal illness. But even diarrhea can spoil a holiday, Laartz notes.

He learned this firsthand while vacationing in Costa Rica years ago. Although Laartz doesn’t know whether it was the goat cheese sandwich or lobster salad he ate, he became sick shortly after returning home.

“This definitely opened my eyes to the dangers of travel,” says Laartz, an infectious disease specialist practicing in Safety Harbor, Fla.

Digestive ailments are much more common now that Americans are becoming more adventurous in their travel planning, he says.

“People are traveling to places they never did before and, inspired by TV shows like ‘Bizarre Foods,’ they are eating the local food. But farming practices in these places may differ and also the foods may not be inspected like they are in the U.S.,” he says.  

Also, people also may come into contact with bacteria and parasites, as well as mosquito-borne viruses that can be lurking in tropical destinations, he adds.

“There are a lot of different ways that you can get sick, so your best strategy is to prepare ahead of time and to be careful while you’re traveling,” he adds.

Here are Laartz’s tips:                

Before you go:

  1. Plan ahead. If you’re planning to go abroad, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Alert Notices while you are drawing up your itinerary. You can find it at www.cdc.gov.
  1. Get medical advice. If you’re going abroad, visit a Travel Medicine Clinic, or a doctor specializing in travel about a month beforehand so you can receive any necessary vaccines.
  1. Check the internet. If you’re going abroad, check out the “Traveler’s Health” page at www.cdc.gov.  But even if you’re staying in the U.S., check out the state health department websites for any of the places you plan to visit. The Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses, while more common abroad, also are in the U.S.

While you’re traveling:

  • Don’t drink the water, even in the shower. Don’t drink the local water and, when you shower, avoid ingesting any water and don’t wipe your mouth with the towel provided by a hotel. Water in some countries has been known to carry parasites and toxins that cause disease.
  • Put a layer between your feet and the floor. Use flip flops on your feet in the shower, and if you must be barefoot, put a towel down on the floor. Parasites can enter the skin of your feet and travel to different parts of the body. For the same reason, never walk barefoot in any area of a foreign country, including your hotel room.
  • Bring your own peeler. Only eat fruit that you can peel such as bananas, apples and oranges. Fruits are sometimes wiped down with dirty rags, which could ultimately lead to diarrhea, E coli, or salmonella. Avoid melons, as sometimes they are injected with unsanitary water to make them weigh more.
  • Cole slaw is a no-go. Coleslaw contains mayonnaise. Mayonnaise-based foods may have not been well refrigerated, and may contain toxins that could cause food poisoning.
  • Hit up the to-go window. If you are concerned about the sanitation of a restaurant, order the food to go. That Styrofoam box may be cleaner than the plate or fork in the restaurant. Dishwashers in restaurants may not use water hot enough to kill bacteria and viruses.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers these additional tips:

  • Avoid tanning. Limit sun exposure when the heat is intense and use adequate amounts of sunscreen. Choose an SPF of 15 or higher, apply at least one ounce of sunscreen (about the size of a golf ball) and follow label directions on reapplying.
  • Check your meds. Make sure you have enough of your medications for your trip, check for special instructions (some may make you more sensitive to sunlight, for example), and keep your medications with you when flying.
  • Be careful with contact lenses. Make sure your lenses are prescribed by an eye care professional and skip colored or decorative lenses sold in shops or on the boardwalk.
  • Think twice about tattoos, even henna ones. Getting a tattoo can cause serious health risks. When it comes to henna, this dye is not FDA-approved for use on the skin, and its use has caused problems in some people.
  • Stay hydrated and eat healthy. When you spend a late afternoon at the beach (remember sunscreen) bring water and drink even before you feel thirsty. But beware of ice or tap water in places where the water isn’t safe to drink. Try to make healthy food choices. If you’re at a buffet, you can follow the dietary guidelines, for instance, by first filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and then adding the protein source.
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