Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

As the holidays are around the corner, there will be lots of people who will be traveling to be with family and friends. With the flu season at its peak during this time, it is important to keep yourself safe while traveling, especially if you are traveling by air or by train. Even if you are driving down to your destination, you still need to be careful that you don’t fall sick.

5 Easy Ways to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

Getting sick while traveling will not only spoil your plans, but if you become sick while you are on the way, then it becomes difficult to manage. However, by being vigilant and following some basic safety tips, you can keep yourself safe and avoid falling prey to the many bacteria and viruses that can be found at public places. Let us take a look at how we can avoid getting sick while traveling.

Regular Hand Washing

Being in a crowded place means that you are surrounded by a crowd who are having a varying degree of health. You cannot tell by looking at someone who is infected and who is not. This is why you should be ready for protecting yourself against germs.

Many studies have found that while the most commonly transmitted conditions include the common cold and the flu, there are also many other possible pathogens that are found in public places such as airports and train stations. Fungi, viruses, and bacteria can all be passed on from one person to the other. It is even possible to catch a pathogen that can cause problems for the gastrointestinal system, the skin, and the respiratory system.

A study done by the FlyHealthy Research Team found that passengers traveling on intercontinental flights who were seated within one row or two seats of someone who had a respiratory disease had an 80 percent higher risk of catching the infection and falling sick. However, the study also found that for the majority of the passengers on the same flight, the chances of getting infected was less than even three percent.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to keep bacteria and germs at bay is to wash your hands regularly. Spend at least 20 seconds washing your hands, including paying attention to under your nail beds. If the situation is such that you are unable to wash your hands right away, then it is recommended that you avoid touching your face. This will prevent bacteria from entering through your nose, eyes, or mouth. Using a hand sanitizer as an alternative to hand washing, for the time being, is also recommended. While hand sanitizers are not a replacement for soap and water, they are still a good solution for that moment. When buying a hand sanitizer, you should ensure that it contains at least 60 to 70 percent of ethanol and apply the sanitizer for at least 15 seconds. After using the sanitizer, though, whenever possible, try to find a water source and wash your hands, particularly before and after eating and definitely after using a public toilet.

While hand washing should be an important aspect of your daily life, the importance of this simple activity increases two-fold when you are traveling. A study conducted by the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom found that the simple act of washing hands had a huge effect on controlling the spread of infection within a clinical setup.

Hand washing does not only lower your chances of catching a common cold and flu virus, but it also significantly reduces the chance of getting diarrhea, food poisoning, norovirus, gastroenteritis, and even hepatitis A.

Always Buy Bottled Water

While you are on the move, it is best to opt for having bottled water over the local water. We can never be sure of the purity level of the local water available. This is why it is always better to avoid drinking the local tap water. It may be fine if the locals are drinking the tap water. However, the same may have a drastic impact on your stomach since your stomach will not be having the right or required bacteria to protect you against any germs present in the local water. The same goes for including ice in your drinks. In many countries, there are no regulations on what water has to be used for ice cubes at restaurants or hotels.

Always double check that the bottle you buy is properly sealed as there is a common scam around the world in many developing countries to sell bottles that have been refilled with tap water. If you have a weakened digestive system already, then it might be a good idea to use bottled water for brushing your teeth as well.

Regular travelers often find it easier to use a water bottle that has a built-in filter. This reduces the need to keep buying bottles of water regularly, thus saving money.

Beware of Eating Contaminated Food

One of the biggest causes of gastrointestinal issues and traveler's diarrhea is consuming contaminated food. You have to be extremely careful about what you eat during your travels. Having contaminated food leaves you exposed to getting infected with E. coli, Giardia, Entamoeba hystolytica, Salmonella, Cryptosporidia, cholera, Cyclospora, diarrhea, and many others. Food that you eat should ideally be fresh, cooked properly, and served hot. These are generally the signs to keep in mind when identifying food that is safe for consumption.

While most people have a love for street foods, you must always keep an eye out to see how clean the environment is where the food is being cooked. It is also good if the food is being prepared right in front of you. Always look for good hygiene at the food court or any food stall where you are eating. Some signs you should look out for include:

  • Is the person who is handling the food wearing disposable gloves and are the gloves changed regularly?
  • Is the person wearing a hair net?
  • Is there a separate cashier? Or if the person handling the food taking the money then does he/she change the gloves each time they are handling cash?
  • Is there a separate area for hand washing? Is hand washing being done regularly?
  • Is the raw food or raw materials for the food to be cooked stored properly or is it left out in the open?

While these things may seem small, but they are important when it comes to your health.

Be careful that you avoid the following:

  • Eating raw fruits and vegetables that have been left in the open
  • Salads that have been prepared in the local water - chances are that they have been prepared in untreated water
  • Food that is left out in the open or has been exposed for an indefinite amount of time
  • Buffets where the food is shared and/or reheated
  • Reheated fish, meat, and rice
  • Undercooked foods

It is not necessary that you are going to get a stomach upset for sure while traveling, but it is still better to follow certain good hygiene practices, especially when you are traveling for a long period of time. This will surely minimize the risk of you falling sick.

Vaccinations

If you are traveling to a place where there is a risk of getting a particular disease, then it is highly advisable that you get vaccinated against it before you reach your destination. If it is possible to protect yourself against certain common diseases of the place you are about to visit, then it is definitely a good idea to go ahead with the vaccinations. You don't need to get vaccinated before every trip, but if you are going to a country or place for a longer period of time then it is a good idea to get the vaccines. Also, the destination you are visiting has a big role in determining whether you need the vaccinations or not. It is better than you consult your doctor before you travel as they can advise you best on what is required and what is not needed.

Certain recommendations for vaccines typically required include:

Routine vaccinations also differ from country to country and while everyone tends to get them throughout their life, it is better to once check with your doctor about whether you need a booster dose of any vaccine before you travel. Some routine vaccines that you need to be updated on include:

  • Hepatitis A and B (Hepatitis A is for those who are at a higher risk for the disease)
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (commonly known as DTP)
  • BCG
  • Pneumococcal conjugate
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella (commonly known as MMR)
  • Haemophilus influenzae type B

Some of the other vaccinations that doctors often recommend include:

Many countries also require certain vaccinations such as for yellow fever, polio, and meningococcal disease.

Protection Against Mosquito Bites

Mosquito bites are a big threat for any traveler. While they can simply cause irritation by their bites, but they can also cause many types of diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, malaria, and Japanese encephalitis. In certain parts of the world, mosquitoes are a big menace and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, and even UK's NHS, provide various types of information on places where there are outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, malaria, and dengue.

Even if you are traveling to a no risk or low-risk area, it is still a good idea to carry a mosquito repellent with you at all times to avoid being bitten. You should also cover up as much as possible.

Conclusion

Taking certain precautions will help you stay healthy and fit during your travels. For emergencies, it is always advisable that you carry a first aid kit with you. It should contain your regular medications, cold medications, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Band-Aids, gauze pads, medical tape, Neosporin, cortisone cream, and other essential items. It is always a good idea to consult your doctor about the required precautions you should take before taking a long trip.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: December 12, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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