Getting Ready to Travel?
The first months of the year in Canada are a popular time for people to travel, especially to warm destinations for a winter break. Some people go away for a short vacation, while others, who are able to take the time, leave until spring returns.
How Can You Prepare for Traveling?
Whether you are traveling for a short or extended period, plan ahead before you travel to minimize any health risks.
Do your research about the places you’re going to visit through your travel agent or various websites about the lodging, food, activities, weather, and environment. You can check the Center for Disease Control’s travel website, www.cdc.gov/travel, or Canada’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade website, www.travel.gc.ca, for any precautions, outbreaks, or natural disasters that may be occurring at or around your destination.
Your destination may require you to have certain vaccines before entering the area. Schedule an immunization appointment in advance to get vaccinated before you arrive at your destination. Have yourself complete the vaccinations four to six weeks ahead.
There are three types of vaccines available:
- Routine: these are vaccines that are usually received on a monthly, quarterly, or annual bases, which include tetanus, diphtheria, and measles.
- Recommended: this group of vaccines prevent infectious disease and are usually recommended depending on factors, such as age, health status, destination, time of the year, and previous immunization history. These vaccines include hepatitis A, typhoid, and meningococcal.
- Required: the International Health Regulations requires a yellow fever vaccine for countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. The Saudi Arabian government requires vaccination for meningococcal meningitis.
If you are not sure which vaccines are required, visit a travel clinic or consult with a pharmacy that provides a travel medicine service.
If you are currently taking prescription medication, ensure that you have enough time away from home and your doctor. Travel with your medication in the original bottles to help you cross borders at custom inspections. Carry a first-aid kit for mild injury and illness that should include over-the-counter medication for traveler’s diarrhea, cough and cold, pain, congestion, and antibiotic creams for cuts and bruises. Other items such as scissors, thermometer, bandages, gauze, sunscreen, insect repellant, and antiseptic hand cleaner are also helpful to have on hand. If you are unsure what to include in your first-aid kit, your pharmacist can help you. A copy of your medical history can be helpful in the case of an emergency, which should include blood type, immunization record, your doctor’s contact information, allergies, and emergency contact information.
Ensure that you have the proper medical coverage if you are out of Canada through your provincial medical plan and any third-party carrier you are using for extended benefits. You can also purchase travel insurance for coverage while you’re away.
When to Seek Medical Attention?
If you become ill while you are abroad, assess the degree of your symptoms. You should contact a local doctor if you have diarrhea with a high fever or bloody diarrhea with a fever in a malaria-risk area, a persistent cough, excessive vomiting, trouble breathing, skin rash, or have been bitten by an animal.
If you are typically sensitive to traveler’s diarrhea, ask your doctor about preventative medication, in which an oral vaccine is available. If you have a traveler’s diarrhea, drink plenty of bottled water or fluids to prevent dehydration.
How Can You Help Yourself?
Now that you have done your research, planned and obtained your vaccinations, there are preventative measures you can take to avoid illness. Smart practices while traveling include:
Food: watch what you eat. If you are in another country, ensure the food is hot and fully cooked and avoid raw seafood. Do not eat from street vendors, which may not have sanitary practices. Dairy products may not be pasteurized or kept at the proper temperature in some countries. Fruits should be personally peeled, and check if raw vegetables are washed with filtered water.
Water: ask how the ice is made, and it may be wise to avoid ice and fountain drinks while you are abroad. Always drink bottled water and use it for brushing your teeth and do not use water from the tap. If only tap water is available, boil it first.
Wash your hands: use proper handwashing techniques with soap and water or use antiseptic hand cleaners when soap and water are not available to prevent the spread of bacteria. Cover your mouth or sneeze and cough into your elbow sleeve.
Protect against mosquitoes: some countries have an increased risk of mosquito-borne disease; therefore, use repellents containing DEET and a sleeping net and cover up as much as possible while outside to prevent exposure to bites.
Avoid wild animals: as bites or scratches from an animal can lead to serious illness
What Should You Do While Flying?
Some people who fly, encounter various discomforts which include:
Airplane ear: caused by sudden and rapid change in air pressure while the plane takes off or lands. This condition creates a vacuum in the middle ear and gives a “blocked hearing” discomfort which can, for some people, be very painful. Often, to help release this feeling, you can try yawning, swallowing, or chewing gum.
Leg and foot swelling: happens during inactivity on a flight. It is mainly caused by sitting with your feet on the floor for long periods, causing the blood to pool in your leg veins as well as the position of your legs while seated, which increases pressure in the leg veins. This contributes to foot swelling by causing fluid to leave the blood and move into the surrounding tissues.
To prevent leg and foot swelling, you should:
- Wear loose-fitting clothing
- Take short walks during the flight
- Flex and extend your ankles and knees frequently while seated
- Drink plenty of water and non-dehydrating fluids
- Avoid alcohol
- Your doctor may recommend compression stockings or a blood-thinning medication if necessary.
For more information about traveling and travel medicine, visit the following sites: