July 17, 2015
Prevention and preparation are key to staying healthy and happy during summer vacations. You can get help planning for healthy summer travel by calling the Dean Travel Medicine Clinic at (608) 252-8020.
Whether you’re traveling by plane, train or automobile one thing is certain: you want to have fun at your final vacation destination. One of the best ways to maximize your fun is to stay healthy. Cara Moll, PA-C with Dean Clinic’s Travel Services hopes you’ll use her advice for making the most out of your travel plans this summer.
Preventing illness before you travel
A successful trip always starts with a little pre-planning. The same can be said for your travel health. Moll says taking time to research the area before you hit the road can help prevent unexpected health issues. There are also extra questions to consider when traveling to other countries.
“Are there any disease risks or out-breaks? Are there political concerns or travel advisories?” asks Moll.
For information on potential infectious disease outbreaks and information on recommended vaccines and prescriptions she suggests checking out the Traveler’s Health page on the Centers for Disease Control website (http://www.cdc.gov/travel). There you can plug in any country and search for area-specific health information.
In terms of political concerns and travel advisories, Moll suggests checking out the US Department of State website (http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/go/checklist.html). In addition to important travel advisories, the site offers up tips on traveling abroad, how to stay safe in foreign countries, instructions on obtaining proper visas, and more.
“It is also important to make sure you are in good health before you travel,” says Moll. “If you have chronic health conditions, make sure they are well managed and under control before you head out.”
She says it’s vital that you talk to your health care provider about your health history and medications before leaving. It’s also important to get their advice on the feasibility of traveling if you are currently dealing with health issues.
If you are traveling to countries in Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Africa or Asia, Moll strongly recommends contacting a Travel Medicine Clinic, like the one she works at within Dean Clinic.
“A travel medicine provider like me can take care of getting you up to date on CDC recommended travel vaccines like hepatitis A, typhoid and more, depending on your travel plans,” she says. “We also prescribe medications for things like malaria prevention, treating travelers’ diarrhea and preventing altitude illness if needed.”
Moll says she also helps travelers understand topics like food and water safety or insect precautions that are important to remember when traveling abroad. While it is best to see a travel medicine provider six to eight weeks before you plan to leave, she recommends making an appointment even if you are closer to your departure date.
Avoiding illness while traveling
Once you’re on your way, a big concern some travelers have is catching an illness from others. Moll says for airline passengers, good hand hygiene is more effective than wearing a mask when it comes to preventing illness. Because airlines recirculate their cabin air through high efficiency HEPA filters frequently (20-30 times per hour), the cabin air environment is not conducive to spreading most infectious diseases. In rare cases, airborne diseases can be transmitted to travelers within a two-seat range. However, illnesses like the highly infectious norovirus can be easily transmitted through direct contact.
“Travelers should wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after using the toilet and before preparing or eating food,” says Moll. “Good hand hygiene is more effective than wearing a mask!”
If your summer plans include hitting the high seas on a cruise ship, Moll says there are ways to prevent the spread of illnesses like influenza and norovirus. First, make sure you’re up to date on your influenza vaccine. It’s always flu season on a cruise ship! To avoid other respiratory viruses or gastrointestinal illness, like norovirus, make sure you wash your hands often: before eating, drinking or smoking. Also wash your hands after touching your face, after going to the bathroom and whenever your hands are dirty.
“Because cruise travelers – or travelers in general – can also be exposed to illnesses such as measles and chicken pox, it is important to be up to date on these routine vaccinations -if you have not had the diseases as a child,” says Moll.
Finding care away from home
Even if you arrive to your final vacation destination in good health, there is a chance you could become sick or get injured while you are hundreds or thousands of miles away from your home and regular doctor. Moll says asking for help can go a long way in finding medical care.
“You can always contact the US Embassy for help if you’re traveling abroad,” she says. “The Embassy should be able to help you find an adequate medical facility.”
Moll also suggests travelers consider purchasing travel insurance. Having coverage for medical evacuation can be especially helpful if you are traveling to a developing country where medical care could be considered substandard. This type of coverage will cover the cost of a medical evacuation flight to a safe medical facility if you need one. You can also find reliable health care facilities for many countries before you leave with the help of Dean’s Travel Medicine department.
As a Travel Medicine provider, Moll does quite a bit of traveling herself, so her last piece of important advice comes from her personal experience.
“First, and most importantly – have FUN – it’s good for your health!” she says. “Traveling to other areas of the United States, or outside of the US, is an amazing and rewarding experience!”
Moll says by doing your homework before you leave you will better know what to expect when you arrive, leaving more time to spend on the fun stuff.