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Ensuring a healthy vacation

Nick Kenrick

As summer approaches and the weather improves, many of us begin to make plans for international travel.  Part of the allure of vacationing in other countries is the opportunity it provides us with to experience other cultures and enjoy the sights and smells of new places.  In order to ensure that you are able to do such things, it is important to take some necessary health precautions both before stepping on the plane and after reaching your destination.

This week on "Take Care," Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky describes the various ways in which we can prevent illness while abroad.  Kozarsky is a professor of medicine at Emory University as well as director of TravelWell, a clinic for international travelers.  She is also a consultant on travelers’ health with the CDC.

Click "Read More" to hear our interview with Dr. Kozarsky.

According to Kozarsky, the first step to take before leaving the country is to visit the CDC travel page, which has information about specific countries and the immunizations required and health considerations to take before traveling.

Immunizations should be administered four to six weeks in advance in order for them to take full effect. 

Even if you have had the proper immunizations prior to traveling, it is helpful to use bottled water instead of tap water for drinking as well as brushing teeth and other daily tasks, as there is no way of knowing that the local water systems are safe. 

Kozarsky also reveals that “the outward appearance of a hotel or a restaurant” can often be deceiving.  Instead, it is “the education and the understanding and regulations that are in the kitchen that really matter.”  Even the priciest all-inclusive hotels can have problems with cleanliness. 

The best way to avoid food-borne disease in foreign restaurants is to stick to cooked or steamed foods rather than uncooked foods, as the cooking process greatly reduces the chance contracting a food-borne illness.

Health insurance is another important consideration for international travel. 

“Many times, our health insurance here at home is not going to be adequate to take care of us overseas,” Kozarksy says.

Even young travelers may need to invest in some supplementary insurance if they are embarking on a long and demanding journey.  It is also helpful to check with your insurance company for limitations.  Credit cards can also provide some form of travel insurance.  In addition, Kozarsky emphasizes the importance of medical evacuation insurance for those who are traveling longer distances.    

The final, and perhaps most useful tip that Kozarsky provides is to assemble a “travel health kit” of various medications and first aid.  The kit should consist of those items that you often use at home to treat various ailments.  These could range anywhere from allergy medications to Band-Aids and should be packed along with an appropriate supply of your regular prescriptions. 

Although the health implications associated with international travel can be daunting, any and all concerns can be properly addressed by planning ahead of time and following Kozarsky’s helpful set of guidelines.  Safe travels!