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Prevention and Safety While Traveling Abroad

Traveling to a foreign country for a large, global event such as the Olympics, holiday events and more requires much preparation in order to stay safe and healthy through the duration of the trip. Michele Kettles, MD, MSPH, Chief Medical Officer of Cooper Clinic, offers tips for travelers embarking on journeys abroad.

Pre-Trip Preparation

Once you finalize plans to travel abroad, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and select the country to which you will be traveling. The website provides information about required vaccinations needed before traveling to the country along with other travel warnings and tips. Dr. Kettles recommends visiting a Passport Health travel clinic to receive vaccinations and medications specific for the country you are visiting and the activities planned during your trip.

When it comes time to pack for your trip, consider the following:

  • Bring along any over-the-counter medications you may need, such as Afrin® or Sudafed®. These can be difficult to obtain in a foreign country.
  • If you’re worried about diarrheal or respiratory issues while traveling, ask your doctor about prescribing an antibiotic. Dr. Kettles recommends a Z-Pak; another antibiotic that is common for travelers, Cipro, is being phased out by many doctors because it can cause harmful side effects.
  • If you’ll be using your cell phone while traveling abroad, talk to your wireless service provider about access you may have in the country you’re traveling to, or if you need to set up an international service plan for your time abroad.
  • Download Google Translate on your phone or portable device if you don’t speak the language of the country you’re traveling to. You’ll want to know how to communicate upon arrival and should an emergency occur during your trip.
  • Make a copy of your passport, and pack it separately from the original. If you become stranded without identification in a foreign country, odds are your stress level will increase dramatically and your vacation may be cut short.
  • Provide a family member or friend with your travel itinerary and contact information for the duration of your trip.

A Safe Trip is a Fun Trip

A safe trip abroad begins while you’re en route to your destination–oftentimes, this can be a long flight. Blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are a primary concern for travelers who must sit on planes for hours at a time. Make sure to stand up and walk around when it is safe to do so, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and don’t take medication that will leave you asleep for hours on end. Immobilization from sleeping for the duration of a long flight leaves you at a higher risk for blood clots.

Upon arrival, be smart about what you eat and drink. In many countries, tap water and ice may not be safe to drink for visitors. Eating certain foods can be risky as well. If possible, try to eat foods you can wash, peel and cook. Steer clear of foods at buffets and salad bars, as you won’t know how well uncooked food was washed and if it has contaminated other foods around it.

Additionally, go the extra mile to prevent illness and injury. For example, if you’re visiting an area where malaria or the Zika virus is present, taking medication before the trip may not be enough. Wear mosquito-repellent clothing and use sprays and nets to protect yourself, and prevent the risk altogether by avoiding going outside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitos are most active.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

According to Dr. Kettles, motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of injury and death to Americans while traveling abroad. Be cautious of how you plan to get around while traveling, because options can vary greatly depending on where you are traveling. Don’t hop on the first form of public transportation you come across–be choosy about motor vehicles you ride in, and make sure to wear a seat belt.

In situations such as the Olympics, Super Bowl or World Cup, it’s important to be diligent about your personal safety. People travel from around the world to attend these events, and criminals do the same. Be aware of your surroundings at all times:

  • Don’t go out at night in strange or unsafe areas
  • Avoid flaunting glamorous clothes or accessories in public
  • Be prepared and knowledgeable about where you are going–try not to look like an obvious target if you are lost or unsure about something

Be Prepared for the Worst

It never hurts to be overly prepared and cautious when it comes to your health and safety, especially when traveling away from home. Bringing your medical records with you to a foreign country is a good idea, especially if you have a significant medical condition. At the very least, make sure to carry a complete list of medications and brief medical history summary. If possible, make use of the technology you have on-hand. If you’re a patient at Cooper Clinic with access to the Internet, you can access your medical records at any time and on any device via the new patient portal.

If you suffer an injury or illness and end up in a hospital in a foreign country, it’s important to be aware of your treatments. Depending on where you are, the blood supply at the hospital may not be as well policed as it is in the United States. Screening blood for HIV, hepatitis and other infections varies country to country. If you can avoid blood transfusions and any use of needles, it is best to do so.

Being up-to-date on all common vaccinations in the United States can help reduce your risk of infection in another country, but being prepared for specific risks is key to having an enjoyable and safe trip abroad. For more information about Cooper Clinic, visit cooper-clinic.com or call 972.560.2667.

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