Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, Life is a journey, not a destination. But did he imagine life as a journey fraught with airport lines, flight delays and crowded conditions only to reach a destination where exotic disease and tainted foods can ruin even the most carefully planned trip?
Probably not. Emerson was urging us to enjoy every step of the way on the figurative journey of life. And to help make sure your literal journeys this summer are enjoyable, there are a few steps you can take to ensure healthy travel and a safe visit once your arrive at your destination.
First, don’t just determine if it will be warm enough for sandals versus loafers when you step off the plane. Be aware of the health climate. (Go to cdc.gov/travel and enter your destination for up-to-date information about potential disease outbreaks and precautions related specifically to your travel plans.)
For instance, travelers going to China can learn that “the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that avian influenza A (H7N9), a type of flu usually seen in birds, has been identified in a number of people in China.” The site goes on to describe basic precautions and symptoms, as well as links to more detailed information.
Other current disease hot spots include Somalia and Kenya, which are experiencing a serious polio outbreak; and Greece, which is battling an outbreak of malaria. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are reporting cases of cholera, and yellow fever cases are being reported in Sudan.
“Cholera, for instance, is a bacterial infection that can cause diarrhea and dehydration, so I would advise travelers going to those areas to take some rehydration tablets and an antibacterial medication, such as Cipro, which is available by prescription,” says Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson, a SLUCare family physician and preventive medicine specialist.
“Vaccination requirements vary, depending on the travel destination involved,” adds Dr. Karen Chen, a specialist in internal medicine on staff at SSM St. Mary’s Health. “There may be shots that you need as far as six months in advance, and some countries require proof of vaccination prior to entry. This is more likely if you have traveled extensively in the last year or if your planned travel itinerary is multi-destination and involves areas known for infectious diseases. Planning ahead is important, particularly when heading somewhere that is off the beaten path for tourists.”
Regardless of destination, Hooks-Anderson also advises rescheduling travel if you are already ill, both to avoid infecting fellow travelers and to allow adequate rest and hydration needed for recovery. Frequent handwashing is important when relying on crowded public transportation. Upon arrival, she suggests wiping doorknobs, faucets and countertops with disinfecting wipes and avoiding use of cups or glasses not in sealed containers.
If you do become ill in a foreign country, the U.S. embassy can recommend a local physician. “ In the case of a true medical emergency, the nearest hospital will have to do,” Chen says. “Asking the hotel staff or any trustworthy, well-meaning locals for help would be the logical solution to a language barrier. For minor illness like fatigue, low-grade fever or diarrhea, get some rest, stay hydrated, and ask the hotel if there is a doctor available. If you have chronic medical conditions, consider purchasing travel medical insurance prior to leaving the United States.”
A bit of advance planning and precaution will help you enjoy both the journey and the destination in good health.