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Don't take a vacation from health

Bookmark and Share Traveling to new countries can be a great experience — if you take the right steps to ensure a healthy, safe trip. Common travel troubles
There must be something in the water
You may need immunizations
You CAN take it with you
Write it all down
Check health insurance coverage

Common travel troubles
Three of the most common health problems that you and your family may experience when traveling are jet lag, altitude sickness and diarrhea. When you fly across time zones, the differing amounts of light can change your internal body clock, resulting in a condition known as jet lag. Jet lag causes symptoms such as upset stomach, insomnia and tiredness. "There are some things you can do to combat jet lag," states Mary Campagnolo, MD, chief of family practice at Virtua Memorial Hospital Burlington County. "For example, if you're traveling from west to east, you should stay out of the sun until the day after your arrival. If you're flying from east to west, go for a brisk walk as soon as possible after you arrive. You should also avoid caffeine and alcohol and drink plenty of water." Altitude sickness is caused by dry air, lack of oxygen and low barometric pressure when you travel to higher altitudes. As a result, you may have problems, such as headaches, dehydration and shortness of breath. "The best prevention for altitude sickness is to gradually increase your altitude every day to get used to it," states Dr. Campagnolo. "If that isn't possible, there are medications that relieve and even prevent symptoms of altitude sickness. If you know that you might get altitude sickness, talk with your doctor before you leave home." The topic of diarrhea may seem gross, but it can be a serious problem. Traveler's diarrhea often occurs when a foreign type of bacteria enters your digestive tract, usually when you eat contaminated food. The best way to prevent it is to be very careful of the food and drinks you consume. So, what food is safe to eat? "Any food that has been boiled, broiled or baked at a high temperature are generally safe, as well as fruits and vegetables that have to be peeled before eating," advises Dr. Campagnolo. "Avoid eating uncooked or undercooked meat or seafood and any food not cooked just prior to serving." There must be something in the water
You've probably heard that you shouldn't drink the water in Mexico, but did you know why? Water supplies in Mexico (and in most developing countries) are not treated in the same way as water supplies in developed countries; various bacteria, viruses and parasites are commonly found in the water. Many experts suggest you drink only bottled water when traveling. If you need to use tap water, you should boil it first. And don't use ice unless it's made from water you know is safe. You may need immunizations
Also, when traveling overseas, you need to review health precautions for that specific region. "As soon as you plan your trip, investigate what immunizations you'll need," suggests Dr. Campagnolo. "Contact your doctor or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention toll-free at 1-877-FYI-TRIP for a list of necessary vaccinations. You'll want to allow plenty of time for this step in case you need to get vaccines that require more than one dose." You CAN take it with you
When you're packing, you'll want to include any medications and other medical supplies you use on a daily basis because they may be hard to find in another country if you run out. These may include any prescriptions you already take, such as inhalers, allergy medication, and insulin, as well as contact lens cleaners and vitamins. Packing over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and allergy and diarrhea medications are a good idea. You may also want to bring a small emergency kit with bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment, adhesive tape, elastic wrap, thermal (hot/cold) pack, tweezers and small scissors in case of minor cuts, abrasions, splinters or sprains. Write it all down
Even if you watch what you eat and drink and get enough rest while you're traveling, you may still get sick. For this reason, Dr. Campagnolo suggests that you carry a written copy of your medical history with you, as well as for each of your family members. "Having such important information available in one place can help healthcare workers make appropriate decisions, and you won't have to worry about forgetting important information at a time when you're likely to be upset and not thinking clearly," she adds. Your medical history should include the following information:

  • Name, address and home phone number, as well as an emergency contact number.
  • Blood type.
  • Immunizations.
  • Your doctor's name, address and office and emergency phone numbers.
  • The name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier, including your policy number.
  • A list of any chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or AIDS.
  • A list of current medications you are taking, copies of prescriptions, pharmacy name and phone number.
  • A list of allergies to medications, food, insects and animals.
  • A prescription for glasses or contact lenses.
Check health insurance coverage
Dr. Campagnolo adds: "You may also want to call your health insurance company before you travel out of the country to you see if your health care will be covered overseas and to find out how to proceed in an emergency. If necessary, you may want to consider a short-term travel health insurance policy." If you practice these healthy tips, you and your family can focus on the scenery — not medical emergencies — and return home with nothing more than some tacky souvenirs.