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Staying Healthy While Traveling

Staying healthy while traveling begins before you travel by being prepared with knowledge, prevention and protection techniques. For students traveling internationally your travel consult at the International Travel Clinic will assist you in planning, being prepared and knowing what to do if you do become ill while traveling. The following topics are a brief overview of some of the items that may be discussed during your consultation.

First of all, learn about where you will be traveling. The exact destination is best to investigate and not the overall country as there may be large differences of disease patterns and health care accessibility within a country. Self disclose to the nurse any food allergies, mental health needs, recent surgeries, or other medical conditions that you may have so that these can be addressed in a proactive fashion. Many times the ITC nurse can assist in finding needed resources in the international country prior to your departure.

During your travels, your normal schedule is uprooted and changed. It is difficult at times to remember to take medications, eat well, get enough sleep and monitor food and water intake. These things are extremely important to staying healthy while traveling.

Other topics that will be addressed during your individual travel consult

  • Medications: Any prescription or over the counter medications should be left in their original package
  • Pre existing health concerns: your primary care physician or specialist will need to provide Student Health Services with a letter of clearance or accommodation.
  • Insect repellants and prevention: diseases carried by mosquitos: Malaria, Chikungunya, Dengue, Yellow Fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Lyme Disease, Tick Borne Encephalitis, and others will be addressed and how to prevent these diseases.
  • Rabies: how to prevent exposure; what is exposure; and what to do if you are exposed.
  • Altitude Illness: what are the signs of this illness and how to avoid further injury
  • Hydration: how to stay hydrated and certain medications that pre dispose individuals to dehydration. (see recipe on other page-Electrolyte).
  • Sunscreen: the importance of putting this one and what products are the best.
  • Blood borne pathogens: understanding how to prevent an exposure can save you from unneeded worry and testing.
  • Health Insurance: Many health insurance companies only cover medical emergencies while traveling or living internationally.  It is essential to understand the best health insurance to carry while traveling.
  • Sexual health: prevention of sexual harassment or assault is essential so that you can study, work, and live without fear.
  • Skin Care: due to hygiene changes, as well as, weather changes, at times simple wounds become complicated quickly. Wash wound often with soap and water. Monitor them closely and be quick to ask for medical care if areas become reddened, warm, or draining thick fluid.
  • Post travel needs: at times international travel brings a variety of illnesses back with the traveler.  Understanding what symptoms and illnesses need to be addressed promptly can decrease elongated convalesce.

Traveler's Diarrhea

Traveler's diarrhea (TD) is rarely life-threatening, although it can make you feel miserable. Countries with higher risk for infection are in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Indian Subcontinent. The severity and duration of TD depends on the microorganisms consumed in contaminated food or water. Common symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and malaise.

How to treat TD (Traveler's Diarrhea)

  • First and foremost, stay hydrated. To make oral hydration fluid, add 1 tsp. salt and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar to 1 liter safe water or take Gatorade with you. Do not rehydrate with coffee, coke, water or artificial sweetener drinks.
  • For moderate diarrhea (3-5 stools per day) first take pepto bismol (as directed).
  • Severe diarrhea requires a person to drink 2-3 liters of oral rehydration fluids followed by safe water to avoid dehydration. 
  • Consume a diet of "BRAT" (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast/tea) and foods that constipate, including crackers, cooked carrots and breads.
  • Avoid raw fruits and vegetables, greasy or spicy foods, alcohol, dairy products, and caffeinated beverages.
  • Take the antibiotic that you have been given (Cipro or Azithromycin) when you are experiencing moderate to severe diarrhea. If the antibiotic is not helping after the second dose and the diarrhea continues, seek medical help.

Only take Imodium when you are taking an antibiotic for TD. Do not take any antimotility medications by themselves as it does not kill the bacteria creating the problem.

Diarrhea is not the only reason to stay hydrated. Heat and sun exposure can quickly dehydrate you. Drink 8-10 glasses (8oz) per day of fluid (not just water) to stay hydrated and avoid heat exposure.