Summer vacation is the time for you to get relaxed and refreshed. However, to avoid ending up sick in foreign countries, here is some advice for travelers before they plan to travel abroad.
BEFORE THE TRIP
Stay away from Countries with Disease Outbreak Alert
Travelers should try to avoid visiting those countries where disease outbreak alert is in effect. You may visit the Hong Kong Travel Health Service website at "http://www.travelhealth.gov.hk
" for further information.
Before you leave, find out what vaccines might be recommended to have for your destination as some countries legally require travellers to have certain vaccinations such as yellow fever. You can check with your travel agent, family doctor or the Port Health Offices for what vaccination is required for travelers or what additional precautions are needed to keep you safe. You may find out the travel vaccination recommendations on the CDC – Travelers' Health website (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list#aware
). If possible, you should get the recommended shots at least one month before departure. It often takes up to a month for vaccinations to take effect.
Pack a First Aid Kit
It's a good idea to keep a first-aid kit handy for any emergency that may arise during your trip. This includes bandages, sunscreen, insect repellent, antibacterial hand wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, lubricating eye drops, simple over the counter medications such as anti-diarrheal medication, pain medication, motion sickness medication, your personal medications as well as a copy of your prescription medications including the generic names for the medications, a list of your allergies, a list of your personal medical conditions together with your family doctor's name and the contact number.
DURING THE TRIP
Protect Yourself from the Sun
If you are going to have a lot of outdoor activities, then good sun protection is a must:
- Always apply sunscreen (use SPF 15 or higher). UV rays can cause skin damage. Sunblock and sunscreen need to be applied at least 20 minutes before your skin is exposed to the sun and reapplied at least every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
- Wear a pair of good quality sunglasses which are able to block both UVA and UVB rays and appropriate clothing, e.g. loose-fitting long pants, long-sleeved shirt and wide-brimmed hat when you are in the sun.
- Avoid outdoor activities during the sunniest and hottest period of the day. The sun is the brightest from noon to 3 p.m., so try to stay indoors to avoid exposure to the sun and plan for indoor activities.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Food and Personal Hygiene
The most common travel-related illnesses are gastrointestinal diseases that will be picked up from poorly prepared foods or untreated water. To avoid diarrhea, stomach pains or vomiting, you should:
- Wash hands frequently with liquid soap especially before eating and after going to toilets
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with bare hands
- Avoid raw or undercooked meat or fish
- Avoid unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables
- Avoid street food vendors
- Drink boiled or bottled water
- Avoid ice cubes in cold drinks
- Avoid unpasteurized milk and dairy products
Avoid Insect Bites
Some serious infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever are transmitted by insect bites. You should always protect yourself from mosquito bites.
- Wear socks, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats when you stay outdoors.
- Use insect repellent especially at dusk and when it gets dark.
- Wear mosquito repellent that contains at least 20% or more DEET.
- Use a bed net if the area where you are sleeping is not air-conditioned or exposed to the outdoors.
Avoid Contact with Animals
Avian influenza (H9N2 and H7N9) and human swine influenza (H1N1)
People will get infected when they come into contact with contaminated poultry and birds or a person already infected with the virus. Therefore, travelers should avoid touching birds, poultry or their droppings or visiting poultry markets or farms. Although there is no evidence so far that avian influenza can be transmitted through eating poultry or eggs, it is important to make sure poultry and eggs have been thoroughly cooked.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
People may be infected upon exposure to animals such as camels, or confirmed patients. Travelers should avoid direct contact with animals, especially camels or visits to farms, barns or markets with camels. One should also avoid drinking raw milk or consuming food which may be contaminated by animal secretions or products, especially the undercooked meat and vegetable, unpeeled fruits and unsafe water.
AFTER THE TRIP
If you get sick within 14 days after you return home from your trip, you still need to look for symptoms of disease. If you develop flu like symptoms including fever, coughing, diarrhea, vomiting or feel unwell, you should consult a doctor and tell the doctor where you have been.
All in all it is extremely safe to travel in a foreign country as long as you are well prepared for your trip. Apart from obtaining health tips for your journey, for the sake of your personal safety and to avoid getting injured during your trip, you are further advised to check about the security threat level of the country you are traveling by visiting the webpage of the Security Bureau – Outbound Travel Alert at "http://www.sb.gov.hk/eng/ota/
HAVE A HAPPY AND HEALTHY SUMMER VACATION!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Travelers' Health
WHO – Global Alert and Response:
(This article is written by Health Concepts Ltd., the HKUST's medical clinic operator.)