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Travel Health Tips

Noel Noren

This is a copy of advice I give to all my traveling clients. It is applicable to "Cruisers" as well, especially if they put into Mexican, South American and North African ports.

Good health is taken for granted while at home but should be considered on every trip you take. While your travel agent can keep you informed of visa and documentation requirements, its up to you to protect your own health. It takes very little time to protect yourself prior to leaving.

Consider the following tips:

  • Contact the CDC at either www.cdc.gov or their fax-back (404-332-4565) for the latest medical information on your destination and route.

  • Join the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT). It's free but they will ask for a donation. They provide you with a list (booklet) of English speaking doctors that are familiar with North American medical practice and drugs plus other information. All doctor members also charge a reasonable flat fee for services that is below insurance limits. This association is highly recommended. The US address is 417 Center Street, Lewiston, NY, 14092. Their HQ phone:519 836 0102, fax:519 836 3412.

  • If you have any medical condition even a minor one, join Medic-Alert. It is recognized globally and will put your family doctor in contact with your foreign one via Medic-Alert. Do not select the bracelet, order the necklace. Its the first place trained medical staff look and has significantly less chance of being lost.

  • Secure medical insurance when you purchase the ticket - its usually the cheapest with the most complete coverage. Don't forget to read the fine print.

  • Contact Steri-Aid at fax: 905/661-1900 or phone: 905/650-0900 for pricing on their sterile travel packs. They make sterile medical packs for the likes of NASA, Outward Bound and Tilley Endurables. You never know when you may need a sterile syringe or IV line when you travel.

  • Condoms are not readily available in some destinations so carry your own from home and NOT in your wallet.

  • Avoid traveling to locations that have a known infectious disease that is rampant i.e. Malaysia - Cholera, Chad - Ebola, Bolivia - Typhoid. You may be able to get there and be totally safe BUT the next country may refuse you entry. An example is Malaysia where a stay in excess of three hours will prevent your entry to Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. Slightly longer stays start closing the doors to other countries including the US and Canada. Check with your state department or demand that your travel agent does and hold them liable.

  • Take typewritten and signed copies of any prescription drugs you require. It may be the only way you can get your medications into some countries and will be your only protection against a drug smuggling charge in others.

  • Remember many drugs available here over the counter are controlled in many countries. Drugs such as codeine based pain killers, insulin, sleep inducers (Nytol etc.) and hormone based drugs (birth control pills, melatonin). If you use them have your doctor write a prescription for travel purposes. Its not as bad as the tips may lead you to believe - use your common sense and judgment. A little preventive preparation goes a long way.
  • Water, water everywhere but ne'er a drop to drink.

    You are what you drink. In most of the worlds' cities (except in Venezuela) the water is safe to drink but invariably will cause temporary problems of your gastrointestinal tract.

    A good rule of thumb - if you plan to stay ten days or longer try the water your first day. If you are going to have discomfort you might as well get over with as some time within ten days you will be exposed to the local water. Better for you to control exposure and the consequences than to have a surprise when you don't need one.

    WARNING- Bottled water is not necessarily a safe alternative to tap water. Locally bottled water may be bottled without any quality control or requirements to meet health standards. This is very prevalent in North America so expect it to be worse elsewhere. Counterfeit bottled water is common in developing countries but remember the benzene-contaminated Perrier just a few years ago. Generally there are extremely few standards for bottled water. Consider all brands suspect. Remember that carbonation does not make it any safer.

    If your stay is short drink beer (from the bottle), do not use ice cubes, brush teeth dry or with beer (not bad actually), avoid fresh fruit juices (rule #1), maintain a high fluid intake (beer, diet coke, or any other canned and pasteurized fluid). Neither coffee or tea is safe as the water is NOT boiled long enough to be sterile or to precipitate minerals.

    If you are struck down with vomiting and/or diarrhea you can rapidly become dehydrated. Dehydration makes it hard to recover, causes aches and pain, brings on shock, blocks effectiveness of medication and other serious complications. Maintain EFFECTIVE fluid intake (in this case avoid beer). Carry oral rehydration salts with you when you travel. These replace lost electrolytes and minerals when you are dehydrated. Talk to your pharmacist about supplying sachets to you. One product is called "Gastrolyte" (DIN 01931563). The sachets of dissolvable chemicals are small and can be easily packed.

    E.N. (Noel) Noren was the winner of the free Carnival Cruise given away in last month's CompuServe's Cruise Forum contest. Although, very well "traveled", this will be Noel's very first cruise and we look forward to his review upon his return. Noel can be reached at: 73002.3206@compuserve.com

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