As owner and tour guide of Villas in Vallarta, Margaret Parrish takes Utahns to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico six to 10 times a year. This year, despite the outbreak of H1N1, more commonly known as the swine flu, Parrish brought a group of travelers to her Mexico-based boutique hotel. None of them returned home sick. Parrish, inline with other health and travel experts, believes it’s still possible to travel safely by utilizing experienced resources and implementing a few sensible precautions.
Research Your Destination
Amy Christensen began traveling frequently when her children went away to college in the 1970s. Thirty years later she still takes annual trips and has visited countries around the world. She begins each trip with a simple step: researching her destination in a travel book. “While [travel books] don’t include up-to-the minute information about inoculations, they include climate, food and water conditions and how to avoid illnesses such as Montezuma’s revenge in Third World countries,” she says. “Frommer’s,” “Fodor’s” and “Lonely Planet” are three popular and reliable travel book series she counts on. Online resources, like tripadvisor.com, offer objective hotel information. “They will tell you both the bad and the good,” Christensen says.
Doug Anderson, Cruise and Travel Masters travel specialist, suggests asking your travel agent for a destination report about the country you’re traveling to. His company’s reports include information about the water served in hotels, weather, personal safety and disability advisories that could relate to health conditions.
Finally, Dr. Jennifer Leiser, assistant professor in the department of family and preventive medicine at the University of Utah, recommends the “traveler’s health” link on the Website, cdc.gov, as a helpful resource to assist travelers and health care providers in choosing vaccines, medications and necessary measures to prevent illness and injury during international travel.
Prepare in Advance
The International Travel Clinic at the University of Utah (www.healthcare.utah.edu/travel
) offers pre- and post-travel consultations for foreign travel. “They are aware of prevalent diseases worldwide. During your pre-travel appointment, they will provide preventive medications and immunizations necessary for your travel destination,” says Leiser. Pre-travel appointments should be scheduled at least one month before departure.
Christensen also advises calling your health insurance company to clarify the range of coverage you have while traveling and if you need trip insurance. Health issues that trip insurance might cover include accidents, sickness and emergency evacuation (for travel abroad). “When the policy arrives, it will list covered conditions,” she says.
Use Water Wisely
While traveling, Christensen recommends hand washing numerous times daily and using hand wipes and sanitizer. “Don’t let your hands touch your mouth, eyes or nose.” When cruising, Christensen avoids buying foods from street vendors and always eats at reputable restaurants recommended by the cruise line. “Try to stay with fruits and vegetables that you can peel yourself, such as oranges, pineapple, carrots and cucumbers,” she says. She takes along Pepto-Bismol and Imodium to help cope with possible digestive tract problems.
Christensen and Anderson say large resorts and main tourist destinations generally have water purifiers. Otherwise, water purification tablets are usually available from stores such as REI or Kirkham’s, or you can buy bottled water. “Make sure the seal isn’t broken,” Anderson says. And since ice may be made from unpurified water, Christenson says it’s probably wise to avoid it.
As far as food goes, Christensen says cooked food is generally safe, but meat should be fully cooked. “We find that soups are especially good. They have often been kept hot on the stove all day.”
Sick? Contact a Physician
If you find yourself sick while away, contact a physician. Your hotel staff or tour guide will be familiar with local medical facilities. Following your trip, University of Utah International Travel Clinic physicians can evaluate and treat your travel-related illnesses. Your treatment will depend on your travel itinerary, history of disease while traveling and the symptoms you’ve developed since your trip. “If you return from an area where malaria is present and experience diarrhea within six months, call a doctor,” says Leiser.
Stay Healthy at Home
Anderson recommends developing good habits at home so you don’t have to change your lifestyle when you travel. “Eat healthy food, get regular sleep and exercise just like you do at home because there is more physical stress while traveling. Good general habits keep your immune system strong,” Leiser says, adding that traveling is worth the effort to stay healthy.
“It’s important to be prepared and flexible and expect things not to be like the United States. If they were the same as here, why go?” says Leiser.