Tips to Avoid Travel-Related Illnesses
Many Houstonians will be escaping the Bayou City this summer to explore other parts of the world. Whether it be traveling to the mountains of North Carolina, the Mediterranean or Dubai, travelers open themselves up to the risk of contracting infections and illnesses by leaving the comforts of their homes and normal environments.
Depending on the destination, there are a number of different travel-related illnesses vacationers should be aware of and plan for as they are planning their trips. In particular, travelers visiting the Caribbean and South and Central America should be aware that the Centers for Disease Control have issued an alert for travelers in those areas and should prepare to take proper precautions.
In addition to Zika virus, there are many other illnesses travelers should keep in mind. According to the Centers for Disease Control, traveler’s diarrhea is the most common travel-related illness, and while not life-threatening for most, it can damper a vacation significantly.
American travelers have a four percent chance of contracting traveler’s diarrhea or acute diarrhea when they travel anywhere in the United States and Western Europe. This percentage jumps to eight percent when traveling to the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, 20 percent when traveling to South and Central America, Asia and Africa and 40 percent when traveling to India. Acute diarrhea is caused from encountering disease-causing bacteria most commonly in areas when illness rates are above 8% coming usually from contaminated water.
“The most important reason for encountering traveler’s diarrhea is due to eating 100 percent of meals on vacation in public restaurants,” said Herbert L. DuPont, M.D., director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health. “If you can self-prepare half of your meals, your chances of diarrhea are significantly reduced. In addition to eating out, excess alcohol consumption and stress contribute to traveler’s diarrhea.”
Combined with preparing your own meals, DuPont also recommends bringing antibiotics such as Zithromax (Z-Pak), Rifaximin or or Ciprofloxacin to self-treat traveler’s diarrhea. In addition to self-treatment, DuPont suggests that all traveler’s purchase health and evacuation insurance when they are planning trips outside of the United States.
“When traveling to high-risk areas it is really quite necessary for travelers to purchase insurance for their trip. It is inexpensive, and most U.S. insurance policies will not work in other countries, and travelers will be forced to pay out of pocket for any care they receive,” DuPont said.
To find a doctor when traveling abroad vacationers can contact the local U.S embassy or consulate and check with their hotel to see if it has a hotel doctor. Travelers can also join the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers to obtain the latest medical directory. The directory compiles a list of doctors from virtually every city in the world that have been vetted by the association. Members of IAMAT can expect to pay a fixed price for care that has been negotiated by the IAMAT with doctors and will have a much easier time accessing medical care when they are abroad. The book is provided free of charge with the expectation that a donation to the organization will be made at any level.