Last night I purposely ingested typhoid.
Now if that sentence doesn’t strike you as bizarre, then you’re probably a pretty accomplished traveler! If you’re an avid reader, you know I’m heading to the Dominican Republic with Fathom in less than two weeks (!!!), so last week I went to a travel doctor to make sure I’m all set in terms of vaccines, anti-malarials, and other preventatives. (So, don’t worry, the typhoid I ingested was just a vaccine!) This week I’ll just be discussing the basics—the health and safety concerns you should be planning for before you travel, but probably aren’t.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and you should always consult with your doctor or a healthcare professional before you make any decisions about your healthcare—even your travel healthcare.
If you hoped vaccines were just for children, well, I’ve got bad news for you… Vaccines are an important part of preventative health, and therefore an important part of staying healthy while you travel! The vaccines you need for your travel completely depend on where you’re going. The CDC has a website that allows you to select the country you’re traveling to. It will then direct you to a different page that lists everything you need to know about health concerns.
Some common vaccines are hepatitis A, typhoid, and yellow fever. According to the CDC’s website (and the travel medicine doctor I visited), hepatitis A and typhoid are recommended to most travelers, and since I am an adventurous eater (and hepatitis A and typhoid are contracted through less than sanitary food), it seemed like the right decision to get both. Most vaccines are just recommended, proceed at your own risk sort of things. But some, like yellow fever, are required to enter certain countries. Be sure to consult your travel agent or travel doctor to find out which vaccines are required for your travel.
Packing basic medications like pain relievers, prescriptions you’re currently taking, and first aid are always a good idea, especially if you’re going abroad. If you don’t speak the language, it can be a huge hassle just to get the ibuprofen you need. (And that’s not something you want to deal with if you’re in pain!) But there are some other medications you might consider for your trip.
Based on the CDC’s information, I thought for sure I’d need an anti-malarial. Well, good thing I visited a doctor, because Puerto Plata (the destination I’m visiting in the Dominican Republic) does not have malaria transmission—so no anti-malarials for me! However, if you are traveling to a place that recommends the use of them, USE THEM! Malaria is a horrible, horrible illness, and it won’t just ruin your vacation, it’ll ruin the next few months of your life!
When I visited the travel doctor, we spent a lot of time talking about Traveler’s Diarrhea (that stomach illness you can contract from drinking water abroad)—too much time, in fact. But when you’re going on a trip, you don’t want to be waylaid by a tummy bug. She prescribed me two antibiotics to take only if I started to get symptoms and recommended I also bring Pepto-Bismol. She told me I could take the Pepto-Bismol every six hours preventatively, or before my meal, then six hours later. But as always, make sure you consult with your doctor beforehand.
Another over-the-counter medication you might consider is Dramamine, especially if you’re going on a cruise and/or susceptible to motion sickness. Like I said, you don’t want your trip to be ruined by an upset tum!
#3 Animal Bite Prevention
We’ll start with the easiest way first: do not approach an animal, even an adorable stray dog—my weakness! Rabies is still rampant in parts of the world, and even if you’ve had a rabies vaccine, just do yourself a favor and stay away from loose animals.
Insect bites are a different story, they just can’t be avoided—as hard as I try… Mosquitoes don’t only transmit malaria, they transmit other horrible illnesses like chikungunya and zika. So how can you prevent yourself from insect bites? Bug spray is a very important part. DEET is the only ingredient, according to the CDC, that will prevent against mosquitoes AND ticks. There are other alternatives to DEET for mosquitoes (as seen here), so if you’re going somewhere without ticks and hate the smell of bug spray, you have other options for your mosquito prevention.
Another way to prevent insect bites is by soaking your clothes and gear (tents, sleeping bags, etc.) in permethrin. (I’d never heard of it either, but that’s why you visit a travel doctor!) Be sure to test it out on a piece of clothing before you travel to make sure your skin isn’t sensitive to it, and never use it directly on the skin. Permethrin repels bugs for four to five wash cycles, so once you’ve soaked your clothes for one trip, you most likely won’t need to do it again on that trip.
#4 Food-Borne Illness
We already talked about Traveler’s Diarrhea, and what to take if you get it. But how can you prevent yourself from getting Traveler’s Diarrhea? Traveler’s Diarrhea is usually transmitted through water, so don’t get drinks with ice cubes in them, don’t eat fruit you can’t peel, stay away from raw vegetables (no salads!), only drink bottled water, and only use bottled water to brush your teeth. Basically, if water from the tap has touched your mouth or something you’re going to put in your mouth, you’ll probably get Traveler’s Diarrhea.
Antibiotics aren’t the only thing to use if you get Traveler’s Diarrhea. It’s also a good idea to take rehydration packs with you. They’re basically Gatorade-like, Kool-Aid-like packets you add to your bottled water. And yes, remember to use them in bottled water, otherwise, what’s the point?
Dairy, unless you know it’s been pasteurized, should also be avoided. Unpasteurized dairy can spread all sorts of diseases, including meningitis. So you won’t just get an upset stomach from dairy, you could contract a serious illness! (Even ice cream in developing countries should be avoided…I know, that’s a huge blow.)
Well now you’re prepared in the travel health department. My last piece of advice? Purchase travel insurance! If you’re not concerned about losing money on your trip, at least purchase medical travel insurance that includes medical evacuation. Most likely your health insurance does not cover your costs if you end up in a hospital abroad, and it certainly won’t cover you if you have to be flown back to the United States for a serious medical procedure!
Buy travel insurance!!
Now get out there and go!