1. Seek Out Health and Safety Information Before You Leave.
Obtain advice on current health conditions at all travel destinations and routes, including general standard of living, sanitation, local health conditions, and disease outbreaks. Find out about accommodations, food, and water sources during travel and at the final destination.
Consider traffic safety: learn about and be aware of the direction of traffic flow, road and sidewalk conditions, lighting, motor vehicles and bicycles, and public transportation conditions. This is even more important if you will be in a developing country.
Be aware of crime against tourists. Use common sense and follow the same precautions that you would at home: be aware of your surroundings, avoid being alone in risky areas, don't carry lots of money, give up valuables if confronted. Find out about the potential for civil unrest at your destination- try to be aware of political conditions.
Sexual harassment, especially for women, can be an uncomfortable reality during travel. This can be a mere annoyance but may escalate to become a dangerous situation. To minimize risk: be assertive, use a buddy system, and use a ‘broken record' technique when someone does not take no for an answer. Be aware of local customs- try to make friends with local women and learn how to protect yourself. Cross-cultural sensitivity does not include relaxing your personal boundaries. If you feel uncomfortable, pay attention to this and remove yourself from the situation right away. See Newport's articles in the SAFETI Newsletter for more info: http://www.globaled.us/safeti/newsletter.html
Consider environmental conditions: climate, humidity, wind, sun, altitude, pollution. Is the water safe to swim in? Avoid contact with animals, as bites can result in wound infections and even rabies.
2. Update Your Immunizations
Review and update immunizations with a health care provider and have a copy to carry with you. Many routine immunizations, including Tetanus/Diphtheria, Hepatitis A and B, influenza, and meningococcal, can be given at CHWS. Consider having a PPD/tuberculosis skin test before and 2-3 months after travel if possible exposure has occurred.
3. Learn About Safe Food and Beverage Choices
This is especially important if you will be traveling in developing countries. However, food born illnesses can occur even in Europe, Australia, and right here at home.
Food: Choose well-cooked and hot foods to avoid infectious agents, especially in meat and fish. Be cautious eating food purchased from street vendors. Avoid leafy, unwashed vegetables and salads, as bacteria and parasites may contaminate these. Safest are fruits, nuts, and vegetables with a thick skin/peel that you can peel yourself before eating.
Beverages: Ask someone reliable about the safety of drinking water. Safest are beverages made with boiling water and carbonated beverages. If concerned about water safety, avoid ice cubes as well. Use straws and disposable glasses, or drink directly from a newly opened container. Remember to use boiled or bottled water for brushing teeth.
4. Assemble a Travel Medical Kit
Look in your medicine cabinet and bring the things you use regularly. Include first aid supplies such as band-aids, gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfectant, Ace wraps, and soap. Bring your prescription medicines for chronic medical conditions and conditions brought on by stress. Keep these in the original labeled containers and keep a list of what you have with you and what it is for. If you wear glasses, bring an extra pair and a copy of your prescription.
Over-the-counter medicines for common health problems and minor injuries might be hard to find where you will be going. Consider bringing ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever/pain; hydrocortisone cream or diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for skin rashes; loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea; antibiotic ointment for minor cuts; as well as anything that you normally use frequently. Personal sanitary supplies might be another item to pack. Finally, include copies of your vaccine records, medications, allergies, name, address, phone, and Fax numbers of primary and specialty health providers.
5. Pay Attention To Your Feet
Take along well-fitting, broken-in shoes. Do not walk around barefoot. Wear protective footwear during activities on the beach and in natural bodies of water. Carry first aid supplies for blisters, splinters, athlete's foot, and insect bites.
6. Protect Your Sexual Health
Be informed about sexually transmitted infections. Unprotected sex can transmit many different infections and might result in unintended pregnancy. Bring a supply of condoms with you if you plan/choose to be sexually active and use them. Be cautious with alcohol and other drug use, as this often impairs judgment. Avoid intimate contact with commercial sex workers.
7. Protect Yourself From Insects
Insect bites are annoying and uncomfortable; some insects spread serious diseases. Wear protective clothing to minimize skin exposure when insects are out. Avoid flowery, bright clothes and scented soaps, perfumes, and hair spray if you want to keep bees away.
If you use insect repellent, the most effective ones contain DEET, and a higher concentration requires a less frequent application. Check the label. Apply to exposed parts of the body. If also using sunscreen, apply that first, wait for ½ hour, then apply insect repellent. Botanical insect repellents are less toxic and may be effective if applied frequently. Avon Skin So Soft protects for @ 30 minutes.
8. Take Malaria Pills If You Will Be at Risk.
Malaria is a potentially fatal illness. Get up-to-date information on the risk for malaria exposure at your destination and travel routes. Your health care provider will select an anti-malarial drug regimen for prevention based on your personal health factors, travel plans, and expected exposure to mosquitoes. Remember- these drugs will only help you if you take them!
9. Prepare For Traveler's Diarrhea
Most cases of traveler's diarrhea (more than 3 loose stools in 24 hours) are short-term and do not need treatment other than fluid replacement. Carry medication for self-treatment such as the anti-motility agent Imodium or Pepto Bismal for symptoms that last for longer than a day. If you are in an area with limited access to medical care and poor water quality, talk with your health care provider about prescription antibiotics to treat traveler's diarrhea.
10. Be Prepared For Emergencies
Check health insurance coverage and obtain additional coverage if needed for emergency medical care and evacuation during international travel. Be sure that you have signed consent forms so that family members can access your medical records at home and facilitate sharing important medical information with health care providers at your destination if this becomes necessary. Travelers with chronic health conditions should summarize their condition, current medications, significant lab and test results, and a treatment plan. Carry the name, address, phone, and fax numbers of your primary care provider with your travel documents. Have an extra copy for your resident director along with a copy of your passport and any other important documents. Find out where the American Embassy and/or Consulate are located. Prepare a contingency plan for emergency communication and evacuation.
Travel Medicine Information Sources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information line: 1.800.CDC.INFO (1.800.232.4636)
U.S. Department of State Citizen's Emergency Center: 202.647.5225
CDC Traveler's Health www.cdc.gov/travel
U.S. State Department www.travel.state.gov
World Health Organization www.who.int/en
Pan American Health Organization www.paho.org
Shoreland Travel Health Online www.tripprep.com
SAFETI newsletter www.globaled.us/safeti/newsletter.html