Whether summer vacation season takes you to locales near or far, a few precautions before you go can help ensure a healthy trip. And that starts with expecting the unexpected.
“Missed flight connections, lost luggage and car problems are common causes of avoidable medical issues,” says Dr. Idelle Fraser, a primary-care physician with SSM Medical Group. “If a patient has essential medication that is taken every day—for instance, medication for diabetes—I recommend carrying these medications in a carry-on bag when traveling by plane, and carrying an extra day or two supply, just in case the return home is delayed for any reason.”
In addition to making sure you have ample medication on hand, Fraser recommends carrying a complete list of all your medications and supplements in case an emergency calls for use of drugs that may interact with your current prescriptions.
Other strategies to prevent illness and anticipate potential injuries include packing a first-aid kit that contains over-the-counter pain reliever, antacid, diarrhea medicine and an antihistamine, says Dr. Divya Chauhan, a family physician at Creve Coeur Family Medicine and on staff at St. Luke’s Hospital. “It’s also a good idea to carry disinfectant wipes and make sure you’re consistently using sunscreen and insect repellant when you’re outdoors.”
When illness does strike on vacation, it tends to be ‘the same respiratory infections and gastrointestinal infections we get at home,’ notes Dr. Kevin King with Mercy Clinic Family Medicine. Other common ailments include sunburns, overdoing physical activity to the point of injury, trauma due to boating or other types of accidents, and dehydration.
Staying hydrated doesn’t necessarily mean drinking the local water, however. Chauhan notes that some destinations require care in consuming food and water. “I recommend bottled water to be on the safe side,” she says. “And make sure food, especially meat, is fully cooked. Be careful about eating things available from street vendors where you don’t know how well the facilities are inspected or sanitized.”
Seeking medical care when away from home can be tricky, King adds. “The drug store clinics are particularly limited. They can swab you for strep, check a urine test and examine you. If you are otherwise healthy, these are OK. But if you have comorbidities (such as diabetes, a history of kidney stones, etc.), then urgent care can manage most issues,” he says. “I always tell patients, even my college students, not to hesitate to call, as we can manage some things over the phone. But if you’re having high fevers, significant pain, increasing weakness or confusion, or any shortness of breath, then you should be seen.”
Chauhan refers patients with specific travel health questions to the ‘Travelers’ Health’ section of cdc.gov, the official website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The site contain helpful tips and advisories regarding specific destinations.
“Have a happy and healthy vacation,” King says. “With that time away from school, work, etc., you might just find exercise to be fun again.”