How many of you research health risks or check with a doctor before leaving on a photo adventure? To my surprise, I have found that many people do not. Getting sick can ruin any travel plans. Getting really sick can significantly impact your life.
Some of you may only worry about health risks when traveling to more remote locations, being concerned about diseases such as malaria in the tropics or typhoid fever from contaminated food. However were you aware that there is a measles and mumps outbreak currently in popular destinations in Europe and New Zealand, that you are at risk for Lyme Disease when traveling to certain European countries, such as the Czech Republic, or that if you are out hiking, camping and photographing parts of the US southwest you should acquaint yourself with risks related to the hantavirus? It is a good idea to check the internet before you leave town, to see if any health risks have been identified at the destination you are traveling to.
There are lots of government-sponsored websites containing health-related travel information. A few that I have used (because they are in English) are the websites developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States (CDC), the NHS Scotland and NHS UK in the United Kingdom, the Canadian government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia and the World Health Organization, which directs and coordinates health in the United Nations system. All sites are a wealth of information, even for trips close to home. I just read recommendations for travelers, particularly grandparents, visiting Ontario, Canada due to the recent outbreak of whooping-cough.
Travel Medicine Experience
If I plan to visit a country very different from the United States, I always schedule an appointment at the travel medicine clinic I have relied on through the years. The clinic is run by an infectious disease doctor. I prefer going to a travel medicine professional instead of my primary care physician who has little experience in travel medicine. The nurse at the clinic, working together with the doctor, provides me up to date information on the country I am visiting, precautions to take, and recommendations for vaccines as well as for over-the-counter and prescription medicines to carry with me while traveling. If I become sick while I am away I have someone to immediately contact, wherever I am. I usually call the clinic once I make my travel plans to see when I should come in for an appointment, as some vaccines take time or require a booster to reach full effectiveness.
I have found, through the years, that the advice I am given through the clinic is more thorough than the advice my friends have received from a primary care physician who is not experienced in travel medicine. For example, recently a friend consulted with their primary care physician for vaccine advice before traveling to Vietnam. The doctor administered the necessary vaccines. However, the doctor did not tell my friend that dengue fever is a problem in Ho Chi Minh City. There are no vaccines for dengue fever and the doctor had only checked to see what vaccines were necessary. Although there are no vaccines for dengue fever, a disease transmitted by mosquitos, there are travel precautions you should implement, such as using insect repellant, wearing clothing treated with repellant, and keeping your skin covered. The nickname for dengue fever is “breakbone fever” for a reason. It is a disease you do not want to get.
The International Society of Travel Medicine has a database of ISTM members and their travel clinics around the world. This database is available on their website at the following link: Travel Medicine Clinics
Eating and Drinking
I am still amazed when I travel that people will eat or drink almost anything in locations where precautions should be taken regarding what you eat and drink. They do not research food and water risks and nor ask a doctor for advice. It is not fun to spend your travel days in a bathroom due to food-related discomforts. For example, when my mother and I traveled to Guatemala we followed the CDC recommendations on food and water. We only drank bottled water, did not use ice cubes in our cold beverages, and we did not eat fresh green salads. We made sure all fruits and vegetables were cooked or had the skin peeled off. No one else on the tour did so. Everyone got sick from the food or water, except us. Many were forced to miss the fabulous day spent among the incredible ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal.
It is also important to have your routine vaccines such as tetanus and flu up to date. Your primary care physician should be making recommendations about routine vaccines when you go in for your annual physical. If you have not had annual exam and intend to travel far from home, you should make an appointment and visit your doctor. It could be rather risky to visit Cuzco, Peru, at altitudes in excess of 11,000 feet, if you have not been to visit a doctor in the past year. You may have heart or other health concerns of which you are unaware, and your doctor may prefer you not make the trip. I also suggest the same with regard to your dentist. The last thing you want is a horrid toothache in Antarctica due to a tooth abscess that may have been found during a routine dental check-up before embarking on a long and distant trip to such a remote location. True story. Someone on one of my trips to Antarctica had such an abscess and was positively miserable.
There is no guarantee that you will stay healthy during your travels. Doing your homework and taking necessary precautions will, however, reduce your health risks and increase your chances of a picture-perfect trip.
Images used in this post are from Adobe Stock.