Summer is the perfect time to relax, unwind and maybe take the vacation you have always dreamed of taking.
There are some precautions, however, that are necessary so you can avoid becoming part of the 40% of travelers every year who bring back a major illness from their trip.
So as you plan for your next trip, here are some tips on how to protect yourself.
Mosquitos lurk in the hot spots.
Mosquito-borne illnesses thrive in tropical regions, which are traditionally vacation hot spots. Depending on the country, they carry such diseases as Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever, Chikungunya, Encephalitis, West Nile Virus and Zika. Mosquito repellent that contains DEET should be an essential item in your travel bag.
Don’t trust the local water.
In lesser-developed countries there is less infrastructure for clean water, effective sewage and public health. If you can’t avoid unsanitary water, make sure you have iodine tablets and bring along a tea or coffee-making device that will boil water for you.
You should buy a case or two of water when you arrive at a destination and check that all bottle caps are sealed to assure the bottled water isn’t just a refilled bottle of dirty, parasite-infested tap water.
If you can’t bring a bottle of water to a restaurant, be sure to avoid drinking the local water and order all drinks without ice. When you shower, don’t ingest the water.
Always protect your feet.
It’s best to wear flip-flops in the shower, but if you must be barefoot, put a towel down on the floor. Parasites can enter the skin of your feet and travel to different parts of the body.
For the same reason that you should wear flip-flops in the shower, you should never walk barefoot in any area of a foreign country, including your hotel room.
Stay away from peeled fruit and condiments not served in a bottle.
Any fruit or vegetable served fresh may have been washed in the same water, or wiped with the same rag used to clean work surfaces in kitchens. The best advice is to bring your own peeler so that you know that nothing unsanitary has been applied to the fruit.
If a fruit such as apples or bananas — which can both be peeled — isn’t available, it’s best to avoid them Food such as potato salad and cole slaw, which contain uncooked mayonnaise, should also be avoided. And beware of any condiment not served in a bottle.
Enjoy the aroma of roadside stands, not the food.
Unless the food is piping hot when served, it’s best to stay away from roadside stands, no matter how good the aroma of the food might be. If you are concerned about the sanitation of a restaurant, order the food to go. Styrofoam boxes may be cleaner than the plate or fork on the table.
How you protect yourself will determine whether your trip goes off without a hiccup or whether you become another vacation casualty.
About Dr. Brent W. Laartz
Dr. Brent W. Laartz (drlaartz.com), author of “How to Avoid Contagious Diseases,” is a board certified infectious diseases specialist in Safety Harbor, Fla., with years of experience in infection control at hospitals, nursing facilities, rehab facilities and outpatient clinics. He graduated with his BA and MS degrees from Northwestern University and his MD degree from the University of Iowa. He finished his training in Tampa, Fla., where he completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in infectious diseases and tropical medicine at the University of South Florida.
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