When traveling to Asia or Southeast Asia, one of your concerns is likely to be whether or not you will get sick along the way. True you need to be smart about your food and activity choices, but if you take the precautions below, there’s no reason to fear that being ill will spoil your trip.
1. Get a health check.
Be sure you’re starting your travels in great shape. Only 36% of international travelers take this precaution, and only 10% of them see a travel medicine specialist. They are experts in all things related to visiting a foreign country. Their advice: have a “pre-travel consultation,” at least six weeks before your departure. For instance, they know what shots you need and how far in advance to get them, depending on where your traveling, and what prescription drugs you can take if you do get sick. These docs are also aware of any current health risks in Asian and Southeast Asian countries and what preventive steps to take. To find the travel medicine clinic closest to you, go to: http://istmsite.membershipsoftware.org/AF_CstmClinicDirectory.asp
No clinic near you? Tell your family doctor where you are going and ask him or her specific questions about vaccines, inoculations, and prescription medications you may need while traveling.
2. Visit your dentist.
If you haven’t been in a while or wonder about that old crown or darkening filling, see the dentist before you go. Having an emergency root canal in transit is not fun.
3. Pack your meds.
Be sure you have enough of your prescription medications plus a few extra in case your departure is delayed. Keep the drugs in their original containers in your carry-on bag. Make a list of the medications and dosage of each on your mobile phone…just in case.
4. Get your shots.
At least six weeks before you go the CDC advises checking that you have had all the routine vaccines:
- measles-mumps-rubella vaccine
- diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine
- varicella (chickenpox) vaccine
- polio vaccine
- annual flu shot
Recommendations for other vaccines depend on where you’re going, where you’re coming from, how long you’re staying and what you’re doing while you’re there. The yellow fever vaccine must be given 10 weeks before departure. Other vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, and cholera may be needed. To find out which countries require what vaccines, go to the CDC website.
5. Be malaria aware.
Avoid mosquitos since they are carriers of malaria. In some areas, the biting bugs may also carry the Zika virus. If you’re going to a country where malaria or yellow fever occurs always, always, always use an insect repellant on any exposed skin when you are outdoors. (The CDC advises reading labels for these ingredients: 20-50% DEET, up to 15% picaridin, IR3535, OLE or PMD, or 2-undecanone.)
- Apply it after your sunscreen dries, and reapply it if you perspire, go swimming, and are very active. The label will tell you how much to apply on exposed skin. Never use it near your eyes and mouth and just sparingly around your ears. When you return indoors, wash it off with soap and water.
- Spray your clothes and hiking boots and bed net with a permethrin spray every four to six washings.
- Another option is to buy clothing treated with permethrin. The protection of pretreated pants and shirts lasts for about 70 washings.
- When applying a repellant on a child, be careful not to get it on their hands, since they often go into the child’s mouth. Do not use repellents on a child younger than two months or an OLE or PMD repellent on children under three years.
- Ask your tour operator and doctor about taking a malaria-preventing drug and whether or not it’s necessary where you’re going. The CDC website has country-specific information, too, and provides pros and cons of 5 anti-malaria drugs.
6. Don’t drink the water.
Of course, you know that. What you may not know is to keep your mouth closed tight when you shower or wash your face. Brush your teeth with bottled water, too. Note that heat is your friend, so hot beverages like tea and coffee are usually fine. Cold isn’t, so don’t have a drink with ice unless you are certain it’s made with purified water.
7. Bring your own straw.
Reusable silicone or stainless steel straws are perfect for drinking from cans and bottles, especially if they have been in contact with ice. (These beverages are usually safe.) Of course, you should still wipe the opening surface with a tissue.
8. Don’t eat the cheese and other foods to skip.
The Cleveland Clinic has the following list of foods to avoid. Print it out and carry it with you as a quick reference:
- Fresh salads and leafy green vegetables
- Desserts, especially those containing custard, cream, or whipped cream
- Fresh cheese
- Cold meats and foods, including previously boiled seafood
- Reheated foods
- Spicy sauces in open containers on tables
- Milk and other dairy products from questionable sources
- Any food product from a street vendor that you have not seen boiling for at least 5 minutes
- Fruit that has been peeled by someone else
Your hotel concierge and your guide can recommend restaurants that they know to be clean and well prepared.
9. Know your fish.
If fish has a metallic, bitter or sharp taste, don’t eat it. It may be contaminated with ciguatera or scombroid. These toxins are not destroyed by heat.
10. Break in your shoes at home.
You don’t need to be on a trekking trip to create blisters, just walking around a few temples Ill-fitting shoes can do it. Wear them for long walks at home before going on your trip. And if you are trekking, do some hikes in your hiking shoes or boots before your trip. Take moleskin in case you do get blisters.
11. Wear sandals on the beach.
Going barefoot puts you at risk of stepping on something sharp or picking up a disease, like hookworm. Water shoes or swim sandals will protect you in the water.
12. Cover up.
Slather on the sunscreen and wear a hat. Long sleeves and pants or long skirt will protect most of your body from sunburn. Apply a broad-spectrum, SPF 30 or higher, water-resistant sunscreen to exposed skin at least 15 minutes before you go outdoors. Reapply every two hours and after a swim or an activity that leaves you sweating.
13. Travel light.
You’ll regret bringing all those changes of clothes if you wrench your back lugging heavy luggage. As with groceries, better to have two, evenly balanced bags that you can manage than one big one that you can barely lift.
14. Stock up on sanitizer.
Carry a small bottle or sanitizer saturated wipes with you and use them often. Wash your hands at every opportunity and use a sanitizer afterward. Wipe down the TV remote in your room, too.
15. Be cool.
Wear light-colored, loose clothing and try to schedule site-seeing for cooler times of the day. Carry bottled water where ever you go and drink lots of it.
16. Don’t touch the monkeys.
They can carry campylobacter, an organism that may cause diarrhea. Plus, the monkeys may bite. Don’t touch other animals either.
17. Go to the drug store.
The following (mostly over-the-counter) drugs are often recommended by travel medicine experts:
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain
- aspirin or acetaminophen for fever
- anti-diarrheal drugs such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) or Imodium or a prescription one such as Lomotil. Prescription drugs such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and rifaximin (Xifaxan) are helpful to have on hand but don’t take them unless you also have cramps, nausea or frequent diarrhea.
- motion-sickness drugs if you’ll be traveling for some distance by car, bus or boat. The same drug may help if you are nauseated for any reason.
- stool softener or mild laxative since constipation is common when eating different food than you’re accustomed to
- antihistamine for allergies or a cold
- cough medicine and cough drops
- 1% hydrocortisone cream
- electrolyte tablets or powder to add to water if you do have diarrhea or vomiting or become dehydrated for any reason
How much of these medications you take depends on where you’re going. Just a few of each is fine if you’ll be in cities and towns that have pharmacies. Take more with you if you’ll be in remote areas.
Smart travelers also carry a thermometer and a small first aid kit with adhesive bandages, like Band-Aids, and antibiotic ointment.