Travel well: Staying healthy on your trip
March 1, 2018
The advent of planes, trains and automobiles for the purpose of efficiently transporting humans around the globe has meant more than just fast travel. Clinging to our bodies, gear and found within the air we breathe are millions of viruses and infections, some mild, some not, but each harboring the potential to wreck a vacation.
A perfect example is this year’s influenza outbreaks in the United States, where experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised the alert of high flu incidence to 43 states, Alaska included ( https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/summary.htm ).
Part of the problem? Our propensity for travel. Whereas outbreaks of other communicable ailments in the past could often be effectively managed due to geographic location, these days it’s easier than ever to catch everything - from a common cold to Bird Flu ( https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/913143/bird-flu-uk-nhs-infection-outbreak-spread-virus-avian-symptoms-signs ).
Travelers have much to think about prior to embarking on any journey, but international vacationers have additional levels of precaution, says the CDC. Not only are current illnesses important to track, but other environmental viruses or infections can turn a pleasant overseas experience into a wellness nightmare, especially for seniors, whose bodies may be immuno-compromised due to extenuating health conditions, medications, or physical disabilities.
A first step, says the CDC, is to have a good idea of your general health before you book any travel. Planning to visit a rural or underdeveloped country (Africa, some parts of Asia, Central America and the like) may mean additional risks, so a few important factors should be considered:
• Where are you traveling? Are there any health alerts ( find them on the CDC’s website, http://www.cdc.gov ).
• What activities are you planning? Some, like diving, hiking or “volunteer vacations” in very rural areas may mean different strategies. Crowded festivals mean a higher risk of catching a communicable disease; high elevations can be difficult for those with heart conditions. Know your destination.
• How is your overall health? Have you had a checkup lately? If not, schedule one.
• Are your vaccinations up to date? Your physician can recommend any new ones or boosters if necessary, according to your specific overall health. It can take some time to gather records or receive necessary vaccinations that require scheduled doses, like those for hepatitis, so plan well in advance of your trip (CDC recommends four to six weeks). A tetanus shot is a must - more than half the cases of tetanus occur in individuals over the age of 65, so if it’s been a while (more than seven years), it’s time for a booster. See “Immunizations: Centers For Disease Control:” https://www.cdc.gov/features/vaccines-travel/index.html
• Do you take regular medications? Carry a printed list with you at all times in case of sudden illness or injury. This will help medical professionals at your destination know about potential drug interactions in the event you or your traveling partners are not able to provide the information verbally. Also include the name, phone number, and email address of your primary care provider on the list. Always carry medication in original containers.
I like to travel with a prescription for seasickness, travelers’ diarrhea, and an antibiotic for most infections. Ask your doctor if he or she thinks this is a good idea. Be aware that many countries struggle with counterfeit drugs, so travelers should only travel with medications they bring from the United States, and be sure to carry all medications in your carry-on luggage, in case checked bags are lost.
Resources for senior travelers
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/senior-citizens
• Find out if your destination has any health alerts by visiting the CDC’s Travelers’ Health page: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list
• In addition, seniors should consider purchasing supplemental travel health insurance in case of injury or illness overseas (http://www.travelinsurancereview.net/trips/senior/). Many health plans, including Medicare, will not pay for services received outside the United States. Also, seniors who are planning travel to remote areas should consider purchasing evacuation insurance, which will pay for emergency transportation to a qualified hospital.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance travel writer and journalist. She lives and works in Anchorage.