One the most nagging questions for travelers is "how do I stay healthy when travelling". Having been to nearly one hundred countries, including India, and countries in the Middle East and Africa, I have had my fun on the road. And I have learned a lot. There is good and there is not such good news. The good news is that things are not as bad as they used to be. The not such good news is that you still need to be careful. So, how do you stay healthy when travelling to the Third World or the tropics? And how do you avoid Montezuma's revenge, Tehran Tummy or Delhi Belly - all terms for that nasty thing, travelers diarrhea?
It starts on the flight
On your flight you want to stay hydrated and move regularly and/or flex your muscles. This will reduce your chances of developing blood clots and, for men, prostate issues.
Eat balanced meals of well-prepared food
Proteins, vitamins and minerals help you fight infections, so be sure to get plenty of those by eating healthy balanced meals. Eat only in popular restaurants where the food is cooked well and freshly prepared. Stay away from raw, uncooked food.
Water is a vector for easily transmitted diseases and anyone who has seen Slum Dog Millionaire knows that bottled water isn't necessarily safe (not to mention the huge influx of plastics in the to environment of single-use bottles). It means that no matter the source, you need to filter out particulates and treat your water against protozoa, viruses and bacteria. There are lots of products out there that kill one or more but not all three of these groups of nasty bugs. For example the Life Straw Play Bottle filters out particulates and kills bacteria and protozoa but not viruses, whereas the Steripen kills all three but does not handle particulates. It means the latter is great if you have access to tap water but not if you depend on creek water. Check with your favourite travel store to find out which is best for you.
Your mum was right - wash your hands with warm water and soap. Hand sanitizers work in a pinch but they do not kill all bugs and certainly do not remove dirt. Keep your nails short and clean and don't touch you mouth, nose and eyes.
Stay fit and rest
Fit persons are less likely to get sick than couch potatoes. Get enough rest and sleep well.
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that's the question
We know of travellers who do not get vaccinated and some get over-vaccinated. This is a personal choice. Get professional advice from your travel clinic but also ask yourself "what is my risk of getting infected and do I need this vaccine". Hepatitis A is a no-brainer as it is a prevalent disease and easily transmitted. Rabies however requires a bite by an infected animal, so ask yourself what your risk of infection is before taking it.
Do keep track of what shots you get and when they expire so that you do not get more than you need.
Malaria & dengue
Malaria is a serious risk and you should get professional advice from a travel clinic about the risk of infection in your chosen destination and the best prophylaxis for you.
Dengue fever is another mosquito-borne disease. There is no vaccine or prophylaxis for it.
To avoid getting bitten, use a bug spray with at least 30 percent DEET. Wear loose and long clothing, especially before dusk and around dawn. Use a mosquito net. Ensure your hotel is air conditioned and has windows screens.
Bring a basic first aid kit. Don't go crazy and buy everything under the sun - bring motion sickness medication, pain killers, soap, Band-aids, aloe gel for sunburns, Moleskin for blisters, and oral rehydration salts. Only use diarrhea medication if you have to (e.g. on a day when you have to travel). It is better to let your body get rid of the bug than to plug yourself up.
If your symptoms persist, get worse or require immediate treatment, seek help. Your travel insurance company has a list of hospitals they recommend.
What about probiotics?
Science is slowly waking up to the benefits of probiotics and those who use them swear by them to avoid travelers diarrhea. Start taking them at least two weeks prior to departure, during and for two weeks after you return.
What about the internet?
Travel clinics are charging for consultations and this drives many people to the internet to find out what shots they need. Please be smart. You are paying thousands of dollars for your trip so a few hundred to stay healthy is not going to kill you. See a travel health professional. Do keep track of what shots you get and when they expire so that you do not get more than you need.
Getting a good travel health insurance policy will assure you the help you need when you need it. Most people can get a policy for less than the cost of a latte, so why skimp? Contact us to get a quote.
Coming home - did anything change?
When you come back, if you feel anything has changed - in your stool or urine, or if you have irregular bowel movements, feel lethargic, or, worse still, have a fever or are downright ill, get checked up for infections by your nearest hospital.