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Avoid sickness on vacation

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Travel health

If the inclement weather in your part of the country has you planning a vacation somewhere warm and sunny, be aware that traveling during the height of cold or flu season or traveling overseas at any time puts you at high risk of catching a travel-related illness. This doesn't mean you should ditch your plans to globetrot to more inviting climes; it just means you need to take precautions to prevent sickness from sidelining your getaway fun. Here's how.

Travel Ilness

Vacation is good for you

Traveling is one of life's greatest pleasures, offering the opportunity to visit friends and family, seek new and unfamiliar destinations, and experience adventures that expand your appreciation of different locales. Even better, research shows that your health and longevity may depend on vacation breaks.

According to the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term program researching common risk factors for cardiovascular disease, women who take vacations once every six years or less are almost eight times more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack than women who take at least two vacations every year. Studies show that taking vacations can improve your mood, better your sleep, and even increase relationship intimacy. Additionally, taking a break from work and day-to-day life can recharge your batteries, helping you return to reality extra-energized.

Vacation may even help you keep your job. A study released by the Families and Work Institute found that people who don't take vacations are more likely to make mistakes, be angry on the job, have higher stress levels, and experience signs of clinical depression. That vacation time is sounding better and better by the minute, isn't it?

Don't let illness ruin your vacation

The ever-present concern of swine flu and other travel-borne illnesses doesn't mean you have to forgo that health-promoting getaway to a relaxing locale. According to Dr Margaret Lewin, medical director of Cinergy Health, healthy people who take preventive precautions can travel with no more risk than they face while staying home and participating in their usual work and social activities.

"Exceptions are people at high risk of serious complications from swine flu, such as pregnant women, young children, people with asthma and other chronic medical problems," warns Dr Lewin. "They should consult with their doctors before embarking on travel that will expose them to many people in close quarters. Their doctors may suggest starting Tamiflu at the onset of serious illness while arranging for local medical help."

Whether you are healthy or in the higher-risk population, Dr Lewin says that the key is to think ahead. Prevention is the name of the game!

bolster your immune system before you travel

Instead of downing Emergen-C or other cold-fighting supplements when you reach the airport, start strengthening your immune system as part of your vacation planning. Dr Lewin suggests you take the following precautions to prevent travel-related illness before you book your flight -- even as you're doing your destination research:

  • Stay at least three feet away from ill people.
  • Never touch your face unless your hands are scrupulously clean.
  • Get the seasonal influenza vaccine and, if possible, the H1N1 vaccine at least two weeks before travel.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or a hand sanitizer (containing at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol) before eating or touching your face.
  • Get enough sleep -- seven to nine restful hours a night.
  • Drink eight (8-ounce) glasses of water a day to stay hydrated.
  • Take a vitamin D supplement (at least 800IU daily, especially in the winter or early spring months when the sunlight is limited).
  • Follow a healthy, balanced diet of fresh, whole foods.

When you book your trip, consider trip cancellation insurance to cover the possibility of last-minute illness.

Reduce your exposure to germs in airports and public places

What if you happen to sit next to Typhoid Marvin, who didn't take all those preventive measures to stay well before traveling?

"If you're sitting next to an ill person on an airplane and can't change your seat, make sure he sneezes and coughs into tissues (give him a packet if necessary), and turn the airflow nozzle towards him," suggests Dr Lewin.

While en route (as well as once you finally reach your destination), follow the same precautions you took in preparation for your trip. Additionally, "Use commercially prepared salt water nasal spray frequently to keep your nasal passages moist, and gargle several times daily with warm salt water or an antiseptic mouth wash," the medical expert advises.

take Extra precautions if you are traveling overseas

Domestic travel certainly exposes you to germs and the risk of sickness, but overseas travel can carry even more risks. Dr Lewin says, "Travel overseas can be complicated not only by illness but also by such unexpected risks as dangerous weather conditions, natural disasters, political upheavals and terrorist activity. Be sure to keep up with the travel advisory websites of the U.S. State Department and Center for Disease Control (CDC)."

Furthermore, if you're traveling to countries outside of North America or western Europe, check with your doctor or a travel clinic (see the CDC's travel section for links) to see what vaccinations and special medications you might need for your specific destination and the activities you plan to pursue.

"Make sure you have medical insurance coverage should you become ill despite all your precautions," recommends Dr Lewin. "Check to make sure your regular health insurance covers you when outside of the US, and consider taking out special travel insurance that covers evacuation costs up to $100,000." This type of insurance is reasonably priced and, if you get sick overseas, you'll find it priceless.

Remedies for travel-related illness

If you do get sick while on vacation, finding medications or doctors to treat your sickness may be difficult. Dr Lewin suggests the following:

  • Take with you the medications described in the suggestions that follow.
  • Drink plenty of water, juices and other fluids, especially warm ones such as tea, water with a twist of lime or lemon, and (of course) chicken soup.
  • Eat plain carbohydrates such as toast, rice, and plain pasta -- which might seem more palatable than richer foods.
  • Loosen nasal and sinus secretions with guaifenisin (600mg twice daily), Oxymetazoline nasal spray (twice daily for no more than three to five days at a time), and frequent use of commercial salt water nasal spray.
  • Reduce aches with aspirin or ibuprofen, and reduce symptoms related to fever with aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • If you're pregnant or have a serious underlying medical condition, seek immediate medical assistance at the onset of flu-like symptoms.
  • Even if you're healthy, seek immediate medical assistance if you start suffering from severe nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, high fever, shortness of breath, chest or severe abdominal pain or confusion, or if you get well then relapse with severe cough and fever,.

To reduce your risk of spreading your illness or exposing your compromised immune system to more germs, minimize your contact with others until you start to feel better.

Taking precautions before and during your well deserved vacation will better ensure a healthy and happy travel experience.

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