Summer Travel Health Advice
Use soap, water, and a dash of common sense.
Consider a Flu Shot
Flu shots are now recommended for all people traveling to developing nations, in a group, or on a cruise, says David O. Freedman, MD, travel health specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
In addition to warding off the aches and misery of influenza, a flu shot may also help avoid an unnecessary scare -- or being pulled over by immigration officials who suspect you have SARS, he says.
"The symptoms of influenza and SARS are very similar," Freedman notes. "Until we have a good mechanism in place to rapidly identify SARS, the only sensible approach is to cast a wide net. If people have symptoms that mimic those of SARS, they will need to be isolated until we can clear them."
Wash Your Hands -- Again, and Again, and Again
"If there is one message we want to say over and over, it is, "Wash your hands," says Isabelle Nuttall, MD, an infectious disease specialist at WHO headquarters in Geneva. Good hygiene is the first line of defense against any viral or bacterial ailment, be it the common cold or the potentially deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Following the correct technique is important, the experts say. If you're in a public restroom with a towel dispenser, first pull down the paper so you have a clean sheet waiting with which to dry off. Then run the hot water and vigorously scrub for at least 15 seconds, making sure to get all the nooks and crannies -- the folds of your hands as well as cuticles and fingernails that can trap dirt and germs. If the washbasin has foot pedal, be sure to use it.
A simple trick, they add, is to say the alphabet to yourself while washing -- by the time you reach the letter "Z," your 15 seconds will have elapsed.
If the washroom has an electric hand-dryer rather than a paper dispenser, use your elbow to turn it on.
When should you wash? Before you prepare or eat food; treat a cut or wound; tend to someone who is sick, or insert or remove contact lenses. And, of course, you should wash after you go to the bathroom; handle uncooked foods, particularly raw meat, poultry or fish; change a diaper; blow your nose, cough or sneeze; handle garbage; tend to someone who is sick or injured, or handle an animal or animal waste.
Drink and Eat Sensibly
Travelers' diarrhea throws a wrench into more vacations than any other disease, striking an estimated 10 million travelers each year, says David Shlim, MD, medical director of Jackson Hole Travel and Tropical Medicine in Wyoming. High-risk destinations: Mexico, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
To minimize risk, follow this standard travel health advice: