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How to Stay Healthy While Travelling

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How to Stay Healthy While Travelling

Sensible ways to avoid getting sick on your next journey

When you’re unwell at home, you can at least cope with the inconvenience in familiar surroundings. You can sleep in your own bed, be comforted by your family and friends and visit your favourite doctor for advice and treatment.

But what if you’re trekking in the Top End of the Northern Territory, touring India or enduring an 11-hour bus ride through Colombia? That’s when life gets interesting.

And it’s not just the mouldy hotel bathrooms, dubious street food and cockroach-invested dorms in third world countries you need to worry about: a crowded subway in a modern city can be just as germ-ridden and potentially harmful to your wellbeing.

Here are some hints for staying healthy when you’re far away from the comforts of home:

Traveller’s diarrhoea is by far the most common medical condition affecting travellers, but generally responds quickly to antibiotic treatment.

Before departure

Visit your travel doctor before you leave. They can advise you on potential health risks at your destination, provide necessary inoculations and ensure you have the medications you need to stay healthy on your journey.

A flu shot can be a good idea and if mosquito-borne diseases are an issue – it is important to obtain up-to-the-minute advice on how to combat them

Stomach problems are no fun, so ask whether it’s worth taking prescription medication to cope with ‘accelerated digestion’. Traveller’s diarrhoea is by far the most common medical condition affecting travellers, but generally responds quickly to antibiotic treatment.

HandGel

When you pack, keep health in mind. Bring hand sanitiser containing at least 50% alcohol, some disinfectant wipes, headache tablets, a neck pillow for long bus/train/plane journeys, nasal spray and bandages.

Make sure your clothing choices fit the journey. Loose-fitting clothing that you can layer would serve you best.

Make sure your clothing choices fit the journey. Loose-fitting clothing that you can layer would serve you best. A warm jumper or jacket can be a lifesaver on cold airplanes or overnight bus trips. Pack a pair of flip-flops to protect your feet from slimy shower floors.

It’s healthier to wear glasses rather than contacts when travelling. Fiddling with contacts makes your eyes more susceptible to germ invasions and dries them out more, while wearing glasses means you end up touching your eyes a lot less.

You can find up to date information about health risks in specific countries by visiting websites such as IAMAT. There are also disease distribution maps and travel advisories at the WHO (World Health Organisation) International Health and Travel site.

On the airplane or train

Have you ever rummaged around in the seat pocket in front of you? Most of us have, but how do we know that the previous seat occupant didn’t shove a used tissue or dirty nappy down there?

Even if the offending item has been removed by airline cleaning staff in between flights, the germs can be left behind. Cold and flu viruses can live for several hours on many inanimate surfaces.

Lady traveling napping on a plain.

Think about how many passengers before you have touched the seat-tray, the in-flight magazine and that handle on the overhead locker. Now you understand the benefits of hand sanitiser! Are you on the aisle seat? Imagine how many people grab that outside armrest on their way to and from the toilet.

It’s a good idea to use your disinfectant wipes on frequently touched airplane (and train) surfaces like armrests, digital screens, tray tables and seatbelts.

It’s a good idea to use your disinfectant wipes on frequently touched airplane (and train) surfaces like armrests, digital screens, tray tables and seatbelts.

And don’t assume that just because those airline-provided blankets and pillows are shoved in plastic that they’ve been cleaned recently. How many drooling passengers might have used your pillow before you?

A Wall Street Journal investigation in 2007 revealed that airlines only clean their blankets about once every five to 30 days. How many flights happen in 30 days? You might be better off bringing your own shawl or large coat to drape over yourself to keep warm.

Airplane and train toilets are used more often than most toilets, so break out your hand sanitiser immediately after using them.

And if you notice someone in a nearby seat who is obviously ill, let the cabin crew know. They may be able to move the person to another seat or (if the problem is respiratory) provide them with a face mask.

Water, water everywhere – but some of it can make you sick

The quality of tap water varies considerably around the world. In some places, it can upset your stomach even when the locals drink it every day without problems. When in doubt, drink bottled water or purify dubious water before drinking.

Boiling works well and there are assorted tablets and purification chemicals available to make water safe. Chlorine dioxide tablets are a popular choice; they’re considered safer to use than iodine or chlorine and they control cryptosporidium, a waterborne cyst.

HealthTravelling (11)

Travellers often think it’s the strange food that makes them sick, but according to the World Health Organisation, 80% of all travel diseases are attributed to contaminated drinking water.

Ice cubes are usually made from tap water, so avoid these when ordering drinks.

Salad ingredients are often washed in tap water as well, so beware of wolfing down salads in parts of the world where the water is suspect.

Salad ingredients are often washed in tap water as well, so beware of wolfing down salads in parts of the world where the water is suspect. The safest fruit to eat in many countries is the kind you peel yourself (oranges, bananas, etc.).

If you ever use a glass in a hotel room, give it a thorough clean in boiling-hot water first. When in doubt, use bottled water to brush your teeth.

But above all, stay well-hydrated while you travel – it’s one of the best things you can do for your health.

Avoid the deadliest creature on earth – and a few others

Which animal kills more humans than any other? If you answered ‘other humans’, ‘dogs’, ‘sharks’ or ‘snakes’, you’re not even close. It’s the humble mosquito, which is estimated to cause 725,000 deaths each year.

Malaria alone kills 200,000 people worldwide and incapacitates around 200 million more. It’s also responsible for the spread of yellow fever, encephalitis, dengue fever and the highly publicised Zika virus, among other ailments.

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The best way to avoid mosquito-borne diseases is to not get bitten in the first place. Wear a DEET-based repellent, soak your clothing in a permethrin solution (your travel doctor can advise), use a mosquito net in danger areas and dress in light-coloured clothing with insect protection in mind.

Your doctor can provide the anti-malarial medication most appropriate for your intended destination.

Avoid hotel rooms with unscreened windows and use a fan and/or air conditioning while sleeping in tropical areas.

Your doctor can provide the anti-malarial medication most appropriate for your intended destination (certain kinds work better in certain regions), but no tablets are 100 % foolproof – you still need to cover up and avoid mozzie contact.

Other creatures to watch out for on your travels include ticks, stray dogs, exuberant monkeys (especially in touristy parts of Southeast Asia) and the assorted nasties that live in lakes, ponds and rivers such as freshwater snails and tapeworms.

Avoid swimming in bodies of water that may be contaminated – even the most inviting creek or lake may contain heavy metals, gruesome bacteria and parasitic critters.

Eat like a local, if you dare

One of the joys of travel is sampling the local cuisine, whether it’s an extravagant meal in a Paris restaurant, fresh seafood in Samoa or a $1.50 plate of Pad Thai at a Bangkok market. In many parts of the world, you needn’t take any extra precautions when it comes to dining.

Generally, crowded restaurants are safer than deserted ones, not just because of higher turnover of ingredients but because you know if it’s popular, the food is probably good: there’s safety in numbers.

Hot food is safer than lukewarm food and anything boiled is usually okay.

Madrid - Mercado San Miguel

When it comes to food poisoning, higher risk foods include:

  • Unpasteurised dairy products
  • Raw or lightly-cooked eggs or mayonnaise made with raw egg
  • Seafood
  • Salamis, hams and other smallgoods
  • Undercooked red meat and poultry
  • Cooked pasta or rice that’s not stored at correct temperatures
  • Pre-made salads – especially pasta salad, fruit salad, coleslaw and rice salad

Give your body time to at least get over jet lag before being adventurous with your diet.

Give your body time to at least get over jet lag before being adventurous with your diet. A radical diet change too soon after arrival in a new country will put added strain on your body while it’s still trying to work out what time zone it’s supposed to be in.

That handy packet of disinfectant wipes can be quite useful in restaurants when you’re not too sure about the cleanliness of the cutlery.

Keeping your stomach happy overseas isn’t really about being paranoid – just be vigilant.

If you get sick overseas

Prevention is better than cure, but if you do succumb to illness abroad, seek medical help and get plenty of rest while you recuperate.

Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun Hospital

If you get sick and have to go to an overseas hospital, your health insurance won’t cover medical treatment.

If you get sick and have to go to an overseas hospital, your health insurance won’t cover medical treatment. That’s why it’s essential to have Travel Insurance.

Aside from protecting you in the event of any major medical issues, it can cover lost luggage, stolen passports, transport delays, unexpected cancellations, personal liability expenses, theft and other calamities that would certainly put a damper on your holiday if you weren’t insured.

It’s easy to go online and compare policy options to find the travel cover that best suits your needs.

 

Sources
https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/health
http://edition.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/12/22/bt.germs.breed.on.plane/
http://www.travelgear.com.au/katadyn-micropur-forte-water-purifying-tablets/
https://www.gatesnotes.com/Health/Most-Lethal-Animal-Mosquito-Week
http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/fp/food-poisoning