When it comes to traveling internationally, the common things are often more dangerous than headline-grabbing exotic diseases.
“We get all worried about Ebola,” says Christopher Carpenter, M.D., head of the section of infectious disease and international medicine at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. “But how many people have died from Ebola, when so many people die of traffic accidents?”
That’s not to say that getting immunizations or taking other precautions for exotic diseases isn’t important. Dr. Carpenter, who works for Beaumont’s InterHealth Travel Medicine Clinic, says it’s important to get immunized against common illnesses including malaria, typhoid fever, Hepatitis A, tetanus and pneumococcus.
It’s also a good idea to visit a travel medicine clinic before you leave. There, doctors can give you advice on what immunizations you’ll need, where local doctors and urgent-care facilities are located in your destination and dispense other valuable health advice for traveling.
There are many more routine things you can do to help ensure you stay healthy during long trips. Here are some tips for how to do just that:
Long flights/car trips
During long plane flights, get up and walk around frequently. If you're traveling by car, stop for a quick walk or stretch. “You don’t want to sit for 12 hours and potentially get a blood clot in your leg,” Carpenter says.
If you have pre-existing conditions, Dr. Carpenter says it’s important to maintain a consistent routine. If your trip is long enough, or far enough away, talk to your doctor beforehand about your travel plans and how it will affect your regimen. “This may be better with the doctor than a travel medicine clinic, depending on what drug it is,” he says.
Practice safe travel
Abstain from casual sex to be completely safe from any sexually transmitted diseases. But if the urge is too great, at least use a condom. “If you’re going to be sexually active, protect yourself and protect your partner,” Dr. Carpenter says.
Food and drinks
Watch what you eat and drink to avoid diarrhea. “Not always, but often that can be avoided,” he says. “People don’t realize that. They eat food from a street vendor, they drink from a faucet - the very things travel health clinics advise them not to do.” Carpenter cites the mantra, “Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.”
Pre-plan with your doctor
If you have diabetes or another pre-existing condition, work with a travel medicine clinic or your primary care physician before you leave for specialized advice. It might be a good idea to travel with a medical alert badge so doctors and providers in other countries can see what kinds of health issues you're dealing with.