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Summer Travel Health Advice

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

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.

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.

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