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Summer Travel Health Advice

Use soap, water, and a dash of common sense.
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WebMD Feature

SARS. Lyme disease. West Nile virus. With the smorgasbord of exotic bugs seemingly waiting to get us, is it safe to travel this summer?

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The answer is a resounding yes, say travel health experts. With proper planning and precautions, the 7 in 10 Americans hitting the roads and skies this summer can help ensure a healthy vacation for their families.

Here is some travel health advice, straight from the experts.

Be Proactive

"Think about health in advance of your trip," advises Bradley Connor, MD, a travel health specialist at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and president of the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM).

"If you have a chronic health problem, get a checkup before you leave," he says. And find out as much as you can in advance about destination-specific health risks. The ISTM as well as the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) offer up-to-date information.

Pack a Travel Health Kit

Expect the unexpected, warns Connor. He tells all his patients to pack a travel health kit, equipped with the following:

  • An anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Anti-diarrhea medication such as Imodium, available over-the-counter
  • Motion sickness medication -- also available over-the-counter
  • Band-Aids
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Drugs for stomach upset

If you wear glasses, pack a spare pair. Mosquito or other bug repellents may also be advisable.

And if you take any prescription drugs, be sure to bring along enough for the entire trip, he says. If you're flying, always place the medication in your carry-on luggage in case your baggage is lost.

A Shot in the Arm

About 30 million Americans go abroad each year, some 8 million of whom visit developing countries where the risk of tropical and infectious diseases is high, notes Connor. And many of them fail to follow basic travel health advice.

"The good news is most of these diseases are preventable, but the bad news is most people fail to take steps to protect themselves."

He should know. Connor is co-author of a new survey showing that 4 in 10 Americans traveling to areas with high rates of malaria fail to carry antimalarial drugs. And although the majority of travelers said they believe vaccines are effective for prevention, only 1 in 3 was immunized against tetanus, fewer than 3 in 10 had received hepatitis A shots, and just 1 in 10 was vaccinated against yellow fever.

"Ensure you have all the right vaccinations and medications before you leave," he says.

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