If spring break travel is in your plans, it’s important to know what health problems you could be exposed to and how you can protect yourself. There are a number of diseases, some you’re probably aware of and some that may be unfamiliar, that are common at popular spring break destinations. Know what steps you need to take to lower your risk and stay healthy on your trip.
What risks do you face?
Measles has been in the news in the U.S. recently because of the outbreak that started at Disneyland in California and has now hit 17 states and the District of Columbia, but the U.S. isn’t the only country where measles is a risk. There are currently significant outbreaks in both the Philippines and Viet Nam, where the World Health Organization has reported 57,564 and 17,267 suspected cases respectively. If you have not received a measles vaccine or are unsure whether your immunity has waned, talk to your doctor about getting revaccinated before you travel.
Cholera is another disease that can be found at several popular spring break destinations, including Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The main symptoms of the disease, caused by bacteria in water or food, are diarrhea and vomiting. While mild cases don’t pose a serious threat, more severe cases can quickly cause serious dehydration that can lead to shock and even death if not treated in a timely manner. To protect yourself, you should use bottled, boiled or chemically treated water not only for drinking or in ice cubes, but also for washing your hands and face and brushing your teeth. It’s also wise to avoid unpeeled fruits and vegetables and raw or undercooked meat and shellfish.
The mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, once primarily found in Africa, Asia, parts of Europe and the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, is now also active in the Caribbean, Mexico, and areas of South and Central America. The virus is spread through bites from infected mosquitoes and it causes a range of symptoms, including fever, joint and muscle pain, headache, joint swelling and rashes. While the virus is not considered life-threatening, the symptoms can be severe and, in some cases, the joint pain can last for months. There is currently no immunization against chikungunya, but you can protect yourself by wearing long sleeves and pants, weather permitting, and using insect repellants that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol. Talk with your doctor about which repellants are safe and effective for children.
Plan ahead for a healthy trip
The best strategy is to see your primary care physician a month or more before your planned trip and ask if there are immunizations you need or other preventive measures you should take to lower your risk of falling ill while travelling. If you have health issues like heart disease or diabetes or have undergone treatment for a serious disease like cancer or had surgery, talk to your doctor about whether there are special precautions you should take before and during your trip. A health advisor is another resource you can turn to for information about safe and healthy travel.
By planning ahead and taking the right precautions, you can protect your health and focus on enjoying your trip.