Staying Healthy on Vacation in a Foreign Country

Photo by Mysaell Armendariz

How You Can Stay Away From the Summertime Blues

Summertime means vacation time. Beaches and drinks with umbrellas in them and lots of photos for Facebook and Instagram. For many travelers, however, vacations can also lead to sickness. Drinking bottled water helps reduce the chances of “Delhi Belly” and “Montezuma’s Revenge;” getting appropriate vaccinations are always recommended.

The chances of contracting Hepatitis A also increases when you travel outside of the American borders. This highly contagious viral disease is hardest on seniors with weaker immune systems. The disease attacks mainly the liver. At its peak, it can leave you feeling weak for an extended period of time – in some cases, even months. The symptoms begin several weeks after contracting the disease, so Hepatitis A won’t likely ruin your vacation – but it can put a damper on the rest of your summer.

How To Know If You’re At-Risk

Traveling with reputable companies to first-class accommodations does not eliminate contracting contagious diseases. In fact, quite the opposite is true. According to the World Health Organization, most cases of hepatitis A in travelers occur in those who stick to higher-level hotels and resorts. A gourmet meal or a pristine bathroom can still harbor disease – and the rigors of traveling can weaken your natural defenses. Assume you are at risk whenever you travel abroad, regardless of the level of cleanliness and service.

If you’re traveling in regions where hepatitis A outbreaks occur, avoid raw or undercooked meat and fish. If you buy fresh fruits or vegetables at a local market, wash them with bottled water before eating. Very hot coffees and teas are typically safe, but ask for a disposable cup, not a hand-washed mug.

While you’re on vacation, you may be substituting drinking water for other beverages, but dehydration can leave you vulnerable. Alcoholic drinks tend to be safe (use your straw, and – even on vacation – always drink in moderation). Drinking water is historically less so. Quench your thirst with bottled water instead of local “tap” water – and use bottled water when brushing your teeth. Skip the ice, and don’t drink beverages of unknown purity. If bottled water isn’t available, boil tap water before using it.

Wondering If You Have Hepatitis A?

Don’t panic. Most cases of hepatitis A are mild cases don’t require treatment. Nearly everyone who becomes infected recovers without permanent liver damage. But vigilance is always a better choice than treatment. Vaccines are available for people most at risk. Contact us if you have any questions or to schedule an appointment.

Hepatitis A can last from a mild case of several weeks to a severe case lasting a few months. Again, age often plays a factor in the severity of the symptoms. Hepatitis A signs and symptoms appear most often four weeks after exposure and develop over several days. Symptoms may also start abruptly in as few as two weeks or as many as seven, and include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver on your right side beneath your lower ribs
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Finally, not everyone with hepatitis A develops signs or symptoms. For this reason it is important to be diligent upon returning home from an area prone to the disease. Immediately, wash your clothing, bathe, and clean personal items with disinfectant.

Should You See the Doctor?

Exposure to hepatitis A can be treated before the first signs of symptoms. You can receive the hepatitis A vaccine within two weeks of exposure to thwart possible infection. Likewise, immunoglobulin therapy is also available before the beginning of symptoms. Ask your doctor – or your local health department – about receiving treatment for hepatitis A if:

  • You’ve traveled internationally recently, particularly to Mexico or to South or Central America, or to any area with poor sanitation
  • A restaurant where you recently ate reports a hepatitis A outbreak
  • Someone close to you, such as someone you live with or your caregiver, is diagnosed with hepatitis A
  • You recently had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is not a living bacterial infection, it is a viral disease. As is the case with most viruses, there is no specific treatment or cure once infected. At this point, the only thing you can do is get a lot of rest.

How You Can Stay Healthy

To avoid getting hepatitis A you have to know how you can get infected in the first place. For all illnesses that commonly affect travelers, follow these simple instructions:

  • Do NOT eat food handled by someone who has not properly washed his or her hands.
  • Do NOT eat food that comes from contaminated water. Shellfish (like mussels, clams) or any local fish where there is an outbreak of disease.
  • Do NOT eat food that is washed in contaminated water. Eating even a healthful salad can make you sick in a month. Stick to cooked vegetables for your diet.
  • Hepatitis A is most often found on your hands (by shaking hands with someone who is infected, for example). The disease is then transferred to your mouth, where it enters your system. Be sure to wash your hands as often as possible.
  • Again, contaminated drinking water can put you at risk for Hepatitis A and other illnesses. Avoid ice and brush your teeth with safe, bottled water.

You can have a great vacation and not worry about contracting a disease if you practice good hygiene. Those most likely to contract hepatitis A will do so from contaminated food or water. But don’t forget that the disease can also spread from close contact with someone who’s infected. Wash your hands frequently, and any older travelers should look into the two-part Hepatitis A vaccine.

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Enjoying Paradise – Tips to Avoid Travel Illness

Summer is finally here! As you plan your exotic vacation, the excitement of what lies ahead begins to really grow. But, have you asked yourself the question, “what if, among the once-in-a-lifetime paradise I am visiting, I do something to leave me stuck inside my hotel room sick?” Let us offer you some tips to keep you in tip-top shape while you’re in paradise.

Because really, wouldn’t you rather be enjoying this:

Palm Beach

Instead of this:

Sick in a Hotel

Vaccinations

  • You should get vaccinated against any diseases that may be endemic to the region where you’re headed at least four weeks before a trip out of the country.
  • Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site to learn more about diseases you may come in contact with during your trip.

To Reduce Contamination in your Food and Water

In countries with poor sanitation:

  • Don’t drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth. Use filtered or bottled water instead.
  • Ice in your drinks could spell disaster, so avoid it altogether. Bottled drinks with a seal are usually safe, and so are boiled water and hot drinks made with boiled water.
  • If food has been kept at room temperature in warm locations, it could have been exposed to flies. Try only eating food that is served hot.
  • Don’t eat salads, uncooked fruits and vegetables unless you’ve washed and peeled them yourself.

Staying away from Bug Bites

  • If you are visiting an area where mosquitos are common, sleep under a mosquito net to avoid being bitten at night. Extra tip: Carry a small sewing kit with you to repair any holes.
  • Malaria mosquitoes bite between dusk and dawn, so being indoors during these hours can reduce the number of bites.
  • Using products with DEET are the most effective insect repellents, but be sure to read the directions for their proper use.
  • Avoid tight clothing, which mosquitos can bite through. Wear loose-fitting clothing in malaria hotspots.

Don’t let Jet Lag Ruin your Vacation/Treat it Early

  • Jet Lag can throw your biological clock with weakens your immune system. Try adjusting to your new schedule at least a week before you travel, if possible. Go to sleep and wake up earlier/later depending on which direction you’re heading.
  • Don’t try to cure jetlag with caffeine or alcohol. This will give you an inefficient amount of sleep and possibly make conditions worse.

Follow these tips, and plan for your safety on upcoming trips. Proper planning will allow you to make the most of your vacation and come back with great stories to tell your friends and family.

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If you are traveling out the country, set up a consultation with our travel medicine specialist, J. Taylor Carlisle, M.D. at 358-0200

Beyond the Research: Groundbreaking Innovations In Malaria Research.

Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic Blog

Here at ADC, we strive to give you the most up-t0-date and important information. We share articles from around the world that highlight stories that change the world of medicine, one life at a time. Take a look at this incredible story from John’s Hopkins Research Center.

Dr. Peter Agre talks about the latest ground-breaking innovations in malaria research.