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Getting sick is that last thing that anybody thinks about when they’re on holiday, mostly because it falls into the category of “things that could mess up your holiday”, yet many people are unfortunate enough to experience it. According to travmed.com, there is a 60-70% chance of contracting illness when travelling in developing countries for up to 90 days. The good news is that most of these illnesses are minor. While they may be minor, they won’t be pleasant and it’s best to take the necessary precautions and avoid getting sick altogether.
Here are a few tips to help minimize the risk of contracting a travel related illness:
1.) Make sure that you get enough rest. Lack of sleep can place strain on your immune system and increase susceptibility for illness. If you’re on a family holiday this shouldn’t be a problem. When it comes to business trips, where you’ll have to stick to schedules and attend meetings, getting enough sleep in can be tricky. But it’s important that you try to get enough shut eye in when you can.
2.) Steer clear of tap water. Don’t drink water out of the tap. This includes using it when brushing your teeth. Stick to drinking bottled water, canned soft drinks and properly sealed bottled beverages. Improperly purified water may contain bacteria that can cause TD (traveller’s diarrhea, also known as Montezuma’s revenge), one of the most common illnesses experienced by travellers. The symptoms of TD include high fever, abdominal cramps, bloating and diarreah and usually last for a few days to a week. Mild cases of TD are treatable with medication such as Lomotil, Imodium AD and Rifaximin.
3.) Avoid food prepared by street vendors. New cultures and food are part of the travelling experience but exercise caution or you’ll feel the wrath of Montezuma’s revenge. It’s generally best to avoid raw seafood, meat, poultry, eggs and unpasteurised dairy products and stick to eating only well cooked foods and pasteurized dairy products. If you eat fruit, stick to fruits with thick outside layers such as oranges and bananas that you have to peel.
4.) Wash your hands. Germs can be transferred to objects and surfaces that other people have touched. Once the germs are on your hands it becomes that much easier for them to spread to more sensitive areas such as your face, nose and mouth and make you sick. Use enough soap and make sure you rub your hands together vigorously to kill all the germs. Washing your hands every 5 minutes can become a bit of a chore, so it’s best to get hold of some hand sanitizer, preferably one with high alcohol content to ensure that no germ survives.
5.) If you do decide to drink tap water, make sure that you boil it first. According to the CDC, water needs to be boiled for one minute and left to cool to room temperature to be safe to drink. At altitudes higher than 2000 metres, water reaches boiling point at a lower temperature and needs to be boiled for up to 3 minutes to be safe.
6.) Filtering the water is another way to get rid of impurities that may be present. Portable water filters and water filter bottles can be bought at outdoor supply stores and taken with you on your trip. It’s generally best to use one method of purifying water in conjunction with another, so if you do plan on drinking water from the tap, you could boil the water and then run it through a filter, just to be safe.
7.) Don’t use ice made from tap water. While freezing water often does kill bacteria, it’s not as effective as boiling water. The bacteria may simply become “suspended” when they’re frozen and contaminate your drink as the ice melts.
8.) Get vaccinated. If you’re headed to a region where certain diseases are known to be prevalent, you’ll need to get vaccinated about four weeks prior to departure. This is the length of time it generally takes for your body to build up immunity to potential illnesses.
If you do become ill it’s important to drink plenty of water to rehydrate your body (just make sure the water you’re drinking is safe). It’s generally a good idea to seek the help of a medical professional at a hospital, where the standard of healthcare delivery and patient safety are moderated by accreditation bodies.
This article was written by Daniel Stevens. He’s a fan of the great outdoors and when he’s not writing up a storm 😉 – that’s where you’ll find him.