Traveling for the holidays? Even while you’re away on vacation, your health and that of your family is top priority.
Before leaving, you should consider these tips for making your holiday trip an enjoyable and, most importantly, healthy one:
Before the trip
“It is very important to plan ahead to allow enough time to obtain required immunizations prior to travel, especially for those traveling abroad,” says Janice Rey, BS, MT(ASCP), CIC, director of the Infection, Prevention and Control department at LifeBridge Health. “I would recommend consulting with your primary care doctor well in advance to allow for enough time to schedule appointments, obtain all necessary doses, and for the body to build up immunity.”
Ideally, you should see your healthcare provider at least a month prior to your trip to ask about vaccines and/or medications you and your family may need as well as any health concerns at your destination. For instance, there may be a risk of measles or malaria where you’re going, and some countries may require proof of yellow fever vaccination.
And remember to get your flu shot! It takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body and protect against the flu, thus it’s recommended that you get your shot at least two weeks before your trip. But even if you’re a last-minute traveler, there is still benefit to getting a flu shot, “especially if travel is extended,” Rey says.
A last-minute visit to the doctor’s office is still worthwhile, even if you’re leaving for your trip tomorrow. Ask about options for getting treatments you need on short notice.
Be sure to pack enough prescription and over-the-counter medications to last you and your family the entire trip (and a few extra days’ worth just in case). Pack essentials like alcohol-based hand sanitizers (containing at least 60% alcohol) or wipes, first aid supplies and EPA-registered insect repellant. Put these items in your carry-on bag in case your luggage gets lost.
“I make it a habit to always carry waterless alcohol sanitizer and tissues with me when traveling during the holidays in particular,” Rey says. “Another good item to have close at hand are packets or dispensers of disinfectant wipes to clean frequently touched personal items such as cell phones, laptops, stroller handles, steering wheels, car seats, etc.”
During the trip
You’ll want to use the insect repellant you (hopefully) packed to protect against the likes of bugs, ticks, fleas and flies that can spread serious diseases. If you’re vacationing somewhere warm and sunny, remember: apply sunscreen before applying insect repellant.
If you are going to be outdoors in cold temperatures, wear light, warm layers along with gloves, hats, scarves, and waterproof boots (remember to pack these items).
Also, you should be aware of travelers’ diarrhea, the most common travel-related illness (particularly in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This condition can be caused by contaminated food or drinks, therefore it is recommended that you eat only food that has been fully cooked and is served hot (especially in developing countries). You should also drink only bottled, sealed beverages and avoid ice (which is usually made with tap water).
Hand washing, of course, is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs, especially in the winter. Wash your hands often and avoid contact with anyone who is ill. When preparing food, wash hands and surfaces often, avoid cross-contamination, cook at the right internal temperatures (use a food thermometer to check) and refrigerate foods as soon as possible (preferably within two hours of cooking or buying).
“In addition, being mindful of general good health habits such as getting plenty of rest, managing stress, staying active, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious foods are all immune-boosting strategies we can use any time of the year,” Rey says.
After you return
You may not notice symptoms from travel-related illnesses until after you’ve returned home. Tell your healthcare provider immediately if you develop a rash, fever or cough. You can help narrow down the possibilities by listing all the places you visited and what you did while you were there. (Cave exploring, water sports, camping, camel riding and visits to foreign healthcare facilities may increase your risk of exposure to certain diseases, so be sure to mention these activities if you partook in them.)
If you develop severe diarrhea soon after your trip, ask your healthcare provider for stool tests so you can find out which treatment will work for you, the CDC says.
To learn more about how you can schedule an appointment with a LifeBridge Health physician, visit lifebridgehealth.org or call 410-601-WELL.