Illness can strike at any time while you're on holidays, and the items you need to get relief may not be readily available. The most common illnesses affecting Canadians travelling abroad are diarrhea, constipation and upper respiratory tract infections. It pays to be prepared for these and other ailments.
Here are some tips from Dr. Michael J. Stephenson, a travel medicine specialist at the Ancaster [Ont.] Travel Medical Clinic.
• Before you go, research the area(s) you will be visiting to see what specific health problems are prominent there.
• Check what vaccinations you'll need before you leave. The two vaccinations in the highest demand among travellers are those for hepatitis A and typhoid, for which the risk of death is one in 200 and one in 5,000, respectively, according to Stephenson.
• Make sure you're up to date with booster shots for tetanus and polio.
• Bring medications you're currently taking in their original packaging to avoid problems with customs. The most common cause of death for Canadian travellers is the illness they take with them, such as heart disease, says Stephenson.
• If your illness requires you to use needles (e.g., diabetes) or take prescribed narcotics (e.g., chronic pain) get a letter from your doctor saying these drugs are for personal medical use only, again to avoid hassles at the airport. Also, make sure you have enough medicine to last the entire trip.
• If you have allergies, remember your allergy medications, including an epinephrine autoinjector if you have a history of severe allergic reactions.
• Pack an antidiarrheal, such as Imodium, and an antibiotic to treat traveller's diarrhea. For young kids, who should avoid these drugs, take along packets of rehydration salts.
• If you have a tendency to suffer constipation, bring along a laxative.
• Throw in an antibiotic in case of an upper respiratory tract infection.
Other items to consider include:
• a first-aid kit, including bandages, antiseptic, tweezers, scissors and gauze;
• insect repellent, especially for destinations where insects carry diseases (e.g., malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, and dengue fever in the Caribbean);
• a painkiller such as acetylsalicylic acid or acetaminophen;
• lubricating eye drops;
• antifungal and antibacterial ointments (for stays of a month or longer);
• cold symptom medications, including a decongestant and throat lozenges;
• motion-sickness medication (such as Gravol); and
• an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Before you travel, learn more about healthy travel on the following websites:
• Travel Health Clinics
• Health Canada: Travel Health
• International Travel: Tips for Staying Healthy
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