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Steer Clear of Sickness During Summer Travels

Whether taking a cruise or flying to an exotic location, you can be proactive to ensure a fun, relaxing trip, as well as a healthy, safe one.

“No one wants to think about getting sick or hurt during a trip, but sometimes these things happen,” points out Dr. Stacy Newman of North Oaks Infectious Disease Clinic.

As a frequent traveler to exotic locations, she speaks from experience. During a trip to East Timor in 2003, she acquired dengue, a mosquito-borne tropical disease that causes fever, headaches, muscle and joint aches, and skin rashes. Although no vaccination is available for dengue, Dr. Newman notes that taking proper precautions and preventive measures can help protect travelers from secondary infection.

“It just takes one mosquito (to relay the disease),” she adds. “I was lucky that I was sick for only 3 weeks. The symptoms can last anywhere from 1 week to a couple of months.”

When traveling, Dr. Newman recommends carrying your prescription drugs with you instead of packing them, drinking plenty of fluids and getting your rest. But, most importantly she warns, be sure to visit your physician beforehand.

“Before leaving on an extended trip or traveling in areas where there is a chance you could contract a life-threatening disease, make sure your vaccinations are up to date,” she suggests. “Whether you’re going to Afghanistan or Zimbabwe for military or contract work or to Brazil for a soccer tournament, we have an extensive database which can access health risks and advice for any international destination.”

Dr. Newman believes it’s a good idea to know beforehand the signs and symptoms of illnesses. This helps travelers recognize a sickness and take action quickly while on a trip that requires traveling by air or boat.

Dr. Newman suggests familiarizing yourself with the following tips and health problems:

Blood clots

Airplane travel, especially longer than 8 hours, may increase the risk for blood clots, known as Deep Vein Thrombosis/Pulmonary Embolism (DVT/PE). Because the air pressure in flight is lower than at sea level, the amount of oxygen carried in the blood is lowered. Certain medical conditions, like heart and lung disease, may not be able to tolerate the reduced oxygen level.

Bug bites

Include insect repellent on your packing list and use on uncovered skin when outdoors. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants when outdoors, especially in areas with malaria.

Food and water contamination

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating or preparing food and after you use the bathroom, cough or sneeze. In some countries, you should only drink bottled or boiled water or carbonated drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks and ice cubes.

Animal bites

Do not handle or pet animals, especially dogs and cats. If you are bitten or scratched, wash the wound immediately with soap and water and seek medical attention.


Use caution when swimming and participating in water activities. Only swim in chlorinated pools. Do not swim in freshwater in developing areas or where sanitation is poor. Be aware of local weather conditions and watch for large waves, strong tides and rip currents.

Traveling on cruise ships exposes people to new environments and high volumes of people, Dr. Newman notes. The exposure can create the risk for illness from contaminated food or water or through person-to-person contact.

“Wash your hands often. If you see someone get sick, leave the area and report it to a crew member immediately,” she shares. “And, always drink plenty of water.”

If you do become sick while traveling, Dr. Newman urges you to get to a doctor right away.

For more information about specific travel destinations and required vaccinations, visit the CDC’s website.

While the tips above are helpful for domestic or international travel, Dr. Newman recommends contacting your physician or North Oaks Infectious Disease Clinic at (985) 230-7870 for more advice and to learn about necessary medications.

CDC Survival Guide to Safe and Healthy Travel

Remember the Three P’s!

  • Be Proactive – Take steps before you leave home to learn about your destination. See a doctor. Think about your health status. Are you too sick to travel? Do you have special needs?
  • Be Prepared – Pack smart. Plan ahead for illness. Know what to do if you become sick or injured during your trip.
  • Be Protected – Pay attention to your health during your trip. Use sunscreen and insect repellent. Be careful about food and water. Pay attention to your health when you come home and see a doctor immediately if you feel ill.

Updated 6/2018