How to stay healthy on Spring Break
A cruise ship off the coast of California has some super sick passengers aboard. And it’s not seasickness.
The Associated Press reports that more than 60 people on a Princess Cruise hitting multiple ports along the California coastline were sick with the Norovirus, a stomach bug usually nicknamed the “winter vomiting disease’’ that causes flu-like symptoms of diarrhea, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps.
With outbreaks like these, you may have reason to be wary of your own Spring Break travel plans. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind so your travel plans don’t have an unfriendly interruption.
Pictured: The new Caribbean Princess departs on its maiden voyage from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in this April 3, 2004 file photo.
Do update your vaccinations
When patients visit the Mount Auburn Hospital Travel Medicine Center, Travel Clinic Director Dr. Lin Chen said one of the keys to preparing patients for travel is making sure they’re up-to-date on their routine immunizations. “A lot of that is based on age,’’ said Dr. Chen. “One of the most likely updates is the second dose of the MMR vaccine for older adults in their 40s or 50s who may not have gotten two doses of MMR vaccine and might be susceptible to picking up the measles.’’
Adolescents and adults are supposed to get a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine booster shot every 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But people often wait to get the vaccine until after an exposure incident. Dr. Chen says when you’re traveling, it can be difficult to get a tetanus shot after a potential exposure, (especially in a foreign country) so it’s better to take care of this vaccine before the trip.
The flu shot is also an important health prevention measure before traveling, because in tropical and subtropical areas, influenza circulates year-round.
Pictured: A nurse fills a syringe with a “trivalent vaccine” (a three-component vaccine) for the seasonal flu, influenza A (H1N1) and N2H3, at the main plaza of San Lorenzo Acopilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City January 30, 2014. At least 2,214 influenza cases have been confirmed and 227 people have died due the virus on January, according to Mexico’s Health Ministry. People can receive free vaccine shots in public areas as local authorities have stepped up precautions during the winter season.
Don’t drink tap water
One of the major concerns for travelers is tap water. The CDC warns travelers to avoid tap water, especially in countries where the water filtration system may not be as thorough as the system in the United States.
Water that’s not properly filtered can cause travelers to develop diarrhea or other illnesses. “Generally we recommend that travellers going abroad should drink bottled water,’’ said Dr. Chen. “Tap water, for instance, is not safe to drink in Mexico versus going to Florida or somewhere within the country where there are stricter standards.’’
The CDC recommends that travelers abroad stay away from tap or well water, fountain drinks, ice made from tap water, as well as drinks made with tap water. Fresh produce in a country with a questionable water filtration system can also carry the contaminants from the water.
Pictured: In this Jan. 9, 2014 photo, a woman drinks bottled water in Mexico City. Bad tap water accounts in part for Mexico being the highest consumer of bottled water and sweetened drinks. A law recently approved by Mexico City’s legislators will require all restaurants to install filters, offering patrons free, apparently drinkable potable water that won’t lead to stomach problems and other ailments. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
Do pay attention to what you’re eating
In addition to avoiding tap water, it’s important to pay attention to what foods may (or may not) have been cleaned or cooked properly. “If they’re going to a developing country, it might look like they’re staying in a generally upscale place, but general hygiene standards might not be as high there, so be careful about what you eat and drink,’’ said Dr. Chen. “Things that are cooked and steaming hot are safer because the heat would have killed off microorganisms.’’
In terms of fresh produce, Dr. Chen recommends sticking to produce that’s easy to peel like bananas. If someone offers berries or a fruit that requires slicing, travelers should try to wash them in safe water and peel the skin in order to minimize exposure to whatever contaminants and microbes are on the outside.
Don’t eat at the buffet
Dr. Chen also recommends staying away from buffets where food sits out in room temperature and microbes can settle in. “A lot of studies done on travelers show that eating foods from a buffet is associated with frequency of travelers’ diarrhea. With everyone handling the same utensils and food sitting around for a while, it’s easier for bacteria to multiply in that setting.’’
Dangerous foods for travelers also include food from street vendors, condiments made with fresh ingredients, raw or undercooked meat or fish, salads, flavored ice or popsicles, unpasteurized dairy products, and wild game. Learn more about the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s complete list of foods to avoid here.
Do buckle your seatbelt
One of the best ways to make sure you have fun on Spring Break, and return healthy, is to practice regular safety precautions. This includes when you get in cabs, cross the street, and especially when you’re driving in a foreign car and place. The roads are different, the laws are different, and even the cars are different. According to the CDC, car crashes make up nearly half of medical evacuations back to the United States.
“Sometimes we forget to think about safety, because if someone comes home with an infectious disease we can diagnose and treat, but if they have a major trauma that’s potentially more dangerous and likely to be life threatening,’’ said Dr. Chen. “So wear your seatbelts, and practice safe driving habits. Those are simple things that are hugely important.’’
Here’s a checklist for road safety from the CDC:
– Don’t drive at night.
– Don’t drink and drive.
– Understand traffic laws before you drive.
– Use seatbelts and car seats for children.
– Only ride in taxis with seatbelts.
– Don’t ride in overcrowded vans or buses.
– Look before you cross the street.
Do prepare a first-aid kit
Part of taking care of yourself abroad also means having supplies ready and available for when you do get sick, so you can alleviate uncomfortable symptoms without having to navigate a foreign drug store. “It’s a really good idea for all travelers to be prepared to treat themselves for minor issues,’’ said Dr. Chen.
Dr. Chen shared her first aid travel packing list:
– Imodium and Pepto-Bismol for upset stomachs
– Tylenol or Advil for general aches and pains
– Antihistamines for allergies
– Topical creams for allergic reactions or cuts on the skin, as well as ointments for potential exposure to poisonous plants.
– Lozenges or a decongestant can be helpful for a cold or cold-like symptoms.
– Antibiotics are also useful in case of infection.
Don’t forget hand sanitizer
Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective against the Norovirus, Dr. Chen recommends that carrying some around on a trip can save you from numerous other diseases in instances when there’s nowhere to wash your hands with soap and water.
For more information on travel safety, The Travel Medicine at Mount Auburn Hospital recommends visiting these information resources: