Are you prepared for your next adventure? Before booking that last minute deal to zipline through the jungle or snowmobile in the Arctic, take the time to ask yourself several key health questions. This can help ensure good health and safety during your journey.

HDYTI’s own remote travel health doctor and expert in infectious diseases, Dr. Sasha, takes time from her busy schedule in Costa Rica to provide valuable insight into the precarious world of travel health advice.

 

#1 Are My Vaccines Up to Date?

Not sure what vaccines you may need before travelling? Read more about the top five things to consider when it comes to travel health.

Vaccines prevent infection and decrease the likelihood of you needing medical care while abroad. In terms of routine vaccines,  check with your healthcare provider which basic general vaccines are covered on your health plan and/or national guidelines (i.e., tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), varicella (chickenpox), polio and annual flu vaccine).

Other vaccines are available and can protect you from getting the following infectious diseases:

Infectious Disease

How do I get it?

Hepatitis A

Contaminated food or water

Hepatitis B

Sex or blood transmission (including needles, tattoos and piercings)

Cholera

Contaminated food or water

Rabies

Dog bites, bat bites, and other mammal bites

Japanese encephalitis

Mosquito transmitted

Typhoid*

Contaminated food or water

Yellow Fever**

Mosquito transmitted

Meningococcal vaccine ACWY***

Spread by close contact

 

**Required in certain countries for entry at the border, even if you have a flight transfer through a country which has it

***You will not be permitted into certain countries at the time of Hajj without your medical certificate).

Note: Some vaccines take 1-2 weeks to stimulate your immune system and protect you. Be prepared when possible ahead of your trip!

Interesting historical fact: Typhoid Mary was an Irish chef who contaminated countless many.  She apparently felt fine but still infected countless others unfortunate enough to eat her fine cuisine.

TIP: Book an appointment with a travel clinic to discuss options tailored to your health and trip planned. Be informed and prepared ahead of your appointment (click here to find a travel clinic near you.).  A useful website that gives up to date country specific recommendations for vaccines is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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#2 Destinations: Is it Rainy or Dry Season?

Not sure what vaccines you may need before travelling? Read more about the top five things to consider when it comes to travel health.

Mosquito population density is greatly dependent on stagnant water availability, which is considerably greater in rainy season. Your risk for Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika, malaria and yellow fever increases with the number of bites and also the number of mosquitoes infected with these viruses and parasites.

TIPS:

  • Clothing: avoid dark colours such as black and navy blue (these attract mosquitoes), consider permethrin treated clothing.
  • Bed nets: sleep under permethrin-treated mosquito nets.
  • Repellent: DEET or Picaridin are good options.  Click here for more information on repellents.
  • Oral antimalarial medication: depending on your destination and your risk of exposure, a travel medicine consultant can recommend the best option for you.

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#3 How Can I Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea?

Not sure what vaccines you may need before travelling? Read more about the top five things to consider when it comes to travel health.

Traveller’s diarrhoea (like many other infectious diseases) is food or water transmitted. No one wants to be rushing to the toilettes for a miserable purge and potential dehydration. Rushing to the local clinic or hospital is not necessarily the excursion of choice on your trip. Prevention is key.

TIPS:

  • Hands: wash them! (soap & water or hand sanitizer).
  • Eat and drink wisely click here for tips.
  • Consider travelling with a prescription antibiotic (such as ciprofloxacin or azithromycin) in case of severe infection.
  • Pack some electrolyte replacement sachets just in case of dehydration.
  • Pepto-bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) coats the gut and can decrease the risk of infection (speak with your GP to see if this would be a good option for you, as it can interact with other medications).
  • For more tips go to https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/travelers-diarrhea

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#4 What are the Essentials for my Trip? Clothing, Gear and SPF+…

Not sure what vaccines you may need before travelling? Read more about the top five things to consider when it comes to travel health.

If you are planning on dogsledding in Siberia, or Piranha fishing in the Amazon with your bikini, make sure you have equipment that works. It’s a good idea to travel with your own first aid kit and consider travel medical insurance.

Cold Climate TIPS:

  • Protect your feet and purchase gear that is appropriate for cold weather (not only trendy but functional) to prevent frostbite and gangrene.
  • Consider useful options such as battery operated gloves or hot packs for hands and feet that are activated when removed from their packaging (and can be inserted into boots or gloves).
  • Base layers to provide added warmth.
  • Sunscreen/sunglasses to protect from the UV rays.

Hot climate TIPS:

  • Don’t forget sunscreen and to reapply as directed on the instructions to protect your skin from burning in the short term, skin cancer in the long run. (sunscreen first then bug spray on top).
  • Sunglasses with UV rays protection.
  • Light, comfortable clothing that protects your skin from the sun and mosquitoes.

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#5 How to Stay Safe: Alcohol, Drugs and Sex

Not sure what vaccines you may need before travelling? Read more about the top five things to consider when it comes to travel health.

Be as informed as possible about the political climate, cultural codes and colloquialisms. Having an understanding of the destination’s basic vocabulary will certainly help. Use common sense wherever you are in the world equally.

TIPS:

  • Alcohol: when drinking, be aware you may be more vulnerable or less aware of your surroundings
  • Drugs: Depending on laws in each country, penalties, imprisonment or even death row might be the consequence. Click here to see countries with the toughest policies before you travel.
  • Sex: I always say in travel clinic “Where do you live? If you were going to have sex with a known person or a random stranger, take the same precautions in any country.” Be aware of local laws, as some countries violate the rights of LGBT people. If you want to know more about sexual orientation laws, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) acts as a consultant to the United Nations, mapping out countries with human rights violations.

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Dr. Sasha’s travel essentials:

Hot weather:

1)    Popup lightweight permethrin treated mosquito net: no need to screw into ceiling

2)    DEET repellant remember that this repellent is not suitable for children

3)    Icaridin (safe for children, better for sensitive skin)

4)     Kikoys: 100% cotton, use as clothing, towel, bedding, etc.

Cold weather:

1)     Hot hand/foot warmers

2)      Canada goose gear

3)      Sorrel boots

4)      Bivy sac to keep sweat/humidity out and avoid becoming a wet icicle overnight

5)      Stormproof matches

Any weather:

1)      Emergency kit

2)      Mineral SPF 25 sunscreen

3)      Personal favourite: Ray Ban aviators (good UV protection and not heavy behind the ears)

 

HDYTI: Do you have any health tips you find valuable? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

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Dr. Sasha Ho Farris Nyirabu currently works as a Travel Medicine Consultant; a GP with focused training for remote Indigenous communities and a MSc in Control of Infectious Diseases from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is passionate about management and program design ranging from infectious disease control to campaign promotion for increased access to health care. Past work, study and research included travels to Borneo, Uganda, Honduras, China, Rwanda, Thailand, Burkina Faso, Singapore, the West Indies, and Costa Rica.