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Summer Travel Health Advice

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

Wash Your Hands -- Again, and Again, and Again continued...

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:

  • Drink only bottled or boiled water.
  • Eat well cooked, rather than raw or undercooked meat and seafood.
  • Avoid any foods or beverages purchased from street vendors or establishments with unhygienic conditions.
  • Avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables unless you peel them yourself.
  • Don't put ice in your drinks.

But no matter how closely you follow this advice, you may still come down with travelers' diarrhea, says Shlim, who believes restaurant food preparation is the culprit. "Some restaurants may use the same cutting board for raw vegetables and meat, for example. Or they may rinse vegetables in dirty tap water."

His advice: Eat only freshly served foods that were cooked at high heat. "Lasagna and casseroles are risky because they are often cooked earlier, leaving plenty of time for organisms to grow."

Shlim also advises going to a doctor in advance of your trip and asking him or her for a course of antibiotics. Taken as soon as diarrhea strikes, the drugs can usually shorten the illness from several days to several hours.

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