Beat travel bugs

Nobody likes to be sick on holiday, or in a strange place. Although it’s not always possible to avoid, here are our top tips on how to prevent travel bugs from invading your vacation!

Get your shots

It’s a smart idea to ensure you’re protected against serious illnesses that are more common in areas to which you plan to travel. This is especially important if you plan to travel with infants, young children, or frail seniors.

It can take several weeks for an immunization to protect you against a disease, so be sure to consult a travel health clinic or your family physician 6 to 8 weeks before your trip.

Which shots you need will vary according to your age, health, and any pre-existing medical conditions, as well as the nature of your travel, including whether you will stay in cities or be visiting more rural locations. Health Canada provides a list online of recommended vaccines, but your family doctor or family health clinic should also be able to make recommendations. The list is available from the Public Health Agency of Canada Travel Medicine Program.

Watch what you eat and drink

Of course a major source of illness — abroad or at home, but particularly abroad where standards may be different — is food and water.

Health Canada reminds travellers to keep the following principles in mind: boil it, cook it, peel it or leave it. More specific advice includes:

– Eat only food that has been well-cooked and is still hot when served.

– Drink only purified water that has been boiled or disinfected with chlorine or iodine, or commercially bottled water in sealed containers (you may want to be wary of local brands).

– Drinking carbonated drinks without ice, including beer, is usually safe.

– Avoid ice, unless it has been made with purified water.

– Boil unpasteurized milk.

– Avoid unpasteurized dairy products and ice cream.

– Avoid uncooked foods (especially shellfish) and salads. Fruit and vegetables that can be peeled are usually safe.

– Avoid food from street vendors unless you want to take the risk.

Safe beverages include: carbonated soft drinks, carbonated bottled water, bottled fruit juices, alcoholic beverages without ice, and hot beverages such as tea.

More information from the Public Health Agency of Canada is available here:

Wash your hands

Take the time to properly wash your hands regularly, particularly before eating and drinking. 20 seconds of scrubbing in water as hot as you can stand should eliminate most germs — as long as you don’t immediately touch another contaminated surface. Travel-sized containers of hand disinfectants can also be an excellent travel tool.

Be careful in sun and water

Don’t get so wrapped up in enjoying the trip that you forget to take precautions against sunburn and heatstroke. Wear appropriate, loose clothing, and use sunscreen regularly. Be sure to drink enough to avoid dehydration, and in very hot areas, stay out of the midday sun and heat — adopt the local custom of siesta hour!

Water presents another range of hazards. If you have any open sores or wounds, avoid going into the ocean, lake, stream, or pool entirely.

Avoid insects

Mosquitoes and ticks can carry local diseases and infect travellers. Here are some tips to avoid being bitten:

– Keep arms and legs covered in the early mornings and evenings when mosquitoes are present.

– Use plenty of repellent.

– Turn off room lights at night, as insects are attracted to light.

– Check skin and clothing for any insects, especially after a trip to a rural area.

– Avoid brightly-coloured clothing as it may attract insects.

Although following these precautions is not a guarantee, it may help you to have a friendly, sickness-free vacation.

What about H1N1?

The travel precautions for dodging the flu aren’t much different for travellers than they are at home — such as frequently washing your hands, coughing into your sleeve and staying put when you’re sick.

However, more than ever travellers are warned to stay home if they’re sick and postpone their trip. Not only could you put other travellers at risk of infection, but you may face isolation and quarantine at your destination if you’re exhibiting flu-like symptoms. (People with whom you’ve been traveling may be quarantined too.) Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada therefore advises travellers to do a little research about screening procedures and quarantine policies at their destination so there won’t be any surprises.

How can you tell what protective measures are in place? Check your destination’s Travel Report here and contact the embassy or diplomatic representative in that country (contact information is included in the report). For more information, see Will H1N1 affect your holiday travels?

Updated November 2009 by staff

Photo © John Boylan