A summer trip can be bliss — but not if you spend those days sick and cooped up in your hotel room.
Taking common-sense precautions can make all the difference, whether you’re traveling someplace far-flung or close to home.
The website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) is the go-to site for travelers. The CDC carefully tracks the prevalence of infectious diseases like Zika and yellow fever by region, and supplies frequent tips and warnings.
Depending on your destination, you may need vaccinations or preventive medications. That’s why I recommend that all travelers to the developing world contact their physicians well in advance to schedule a travel medicine appointment.
Zika is one of the diseases patients are most concerned about this year. If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant in the near future, you should avoid regions where Zika is endemic, because the disease is linked with severe birth defects.
For instance, the CDC has cautioned pregnant women to postpone traveling to several countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. For the rest of us, it’s enough to take insect avoidance measures, like using repellents and wearing protective clothing, particularly clothing treated with permethrin, an insecticide that is widely used on mosquito nets. Have a conversation with your doctor to make a plan for staying safe on your trip.
For any traveler, gastrointestinal distress is another potential problem. This is where common-sense measures come in: Avoid street vendors, eat food that is well cooked, and drink bottled water if the local water supply is iffy. I also recommend carrying a backup antibiotic in pill form, so that you don’t have to scramble to find medical care.
Airplanes are another site where people worry about getting sick. And certainly, anyone with heart disease or lung disease should talk to their doctor before entering a pressurized air space.
But for most of us, the main concern is getting exposed to an infectious disease. This can happen, but not for the reason most people think. The air in planes is recycled more frequently than in an office building, and airborne pathogens don’t have a very wide radius, so you will be out of the range of someone who is coughing and sneezing, if he is at least two seats away.
The real problem on airplanes is transmission of germs through the objects that everyone touches, like the door handles, the seats, the trays, and the sink in the bathroom. There is only so much you can do to limit your exposure: Wash your hands well, and bring a hand sanitizer.
And be sure to get a good amount of sleep before a flight — that helps build the immune system and lower your risk. If you are sick with a fever, muscle aches, or other flu-like symptoms, postpone your travel until you feel better.
Travel-related illnesses carry a higher risk for some. For instance, people taking biologics or other drugs that suppress the immune system should take special precautions.
The yellow fever vaccine is a live vaccine, and immune-suppressed people should not receive it, so they should talk to their doctors about the risks before traveling to regions where there is yellow fever.
At this point, yellow fever is in circulation mainly in South America and Africa. Some countries will require proof of your vaccination before you enter. For instance, if you’re traveling from Brazil — where yellow fever is circulating — to South Africa, South Africa requires proof of vaccination, because they have the mosquitoes that transmit yellow fever, but not the virus.
Malaria prevention is a bit more complicated. Many parts of the world are affected, especially places with a tropical climate, including parts of South America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
There is no clinically-available vaccine, so we recommend taking preventive antimalarial medications like Doxycycline or Malarone. It’s also crucial to take steps to limit your exposure to mosquitoes.
Regardless of the destination, travel can test your immune system. Plan ahead if you’re traveling to the developing world, so you have time for a travel medicine checkup and for vaccines to take effect.
Otherwise, there is no magic pill to build your immune system. Just take the same practical steps that promote health at home: eat a well-balanced diet, get some exercise, be vigilant about hand washing, and get plenty of sleep.
Daniel Caplivski, MD, is Medical Director, Mount Sinai Travel Medicine Program, and Associate Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases), Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
[The content provided through this article and www.nydailynews.com should be used for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the advice of a relevant professional with any questions about any health decision you are seeking to make.]