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Too bad counting down the days to a vacation often includes awaiting those dreaded signs of sickness. Sure, there's no scientific proof that you'll get sick just in time for that beach vacation you've been waiting for, but the preparation we undertake before travelling can make us more vulnerable to picking up bugs. "Often we catapult ourselves into a vacation coming off of busy work and school schedules," says Dr. Nadia Knarr, a family physician in Belleville, Ont. "And all that hectic activity cuts into what keeps you healthy—getting good sleep, eating well and lowering your stress." Add in travelling in close quarters with the company of many others, touching more potentially contaminated surfaces and…you get the idea. Here are five ways to fend off germs before your next trip.
Get the upper hand. Hand washing isn't always top of mind on vacation. "When you're travelling, you might let your guard down and not remember to think about safety measures," says Dr. Pierre Plourde, a physician with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. But the experts all agree that washing your hands correctly (or using an alcohol-based hand rub) is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself against infectious diseases, namely catching cold and flu. So remember to wash frequently throughout the day (for about 20 seconds at a time) and especially after coughing or sneezing, before handling food and after using the washroom.
Tame tummy troubles. “We've got certain flora in our gut and when we go overseas, there are bacteria our guts aren't used to and that makes us more susceptible to illness," says Colleen Jeffery, the nurse director with the Travel Medicine & Vaccination Centre in Burnaby, BC. In fact, traveller's diarrhea—sudden unexplained diarrhea and stomach pain—is the most common illness that affects travellers. "Taking probiotics preventatively is an option," says Jeffery. Not sure how to select one? Talk to your pharmacist about what's right for you. If you're particularly susceptible to stomach ailments, consider getting Dukoral, an oral vaccine that helps prevent traveller's diarrhea.
Drink (water) like a fish. Tipping back lots of liquids, particularly water, goes a long way in staving off illnesses. "When you're in drier environments—such as on an airplane—the mucous membranes in your nose and mouth are drier, and that increases the risk of getting sick with viral illnesses," says Dr. Knarr. The added protection of being hydrated is worth a few extra trips to the bathroom. Taking in lots of fluids throughout your vacation can also ward off impending heat-related illnesses in warmer climates, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Don't let the bugs bite. "In almost everywhere in the world, but especially in tropical climates, you have to use insect precautions," says Jeffery. "The Zika virus, dengue fever, yellow fever and more are all caused by mosquitoes." So pack a bug repellent with up to 30 percent concentration of DEET (the insect-repelling chemical in bug sprays) for adults and children older than 12, and up to 10 percent concentration for children two years to 12 years. Uncomfortable with DEET? Opt for Icaridin, an alternative repellent considered as good as DEET.
Walk off your worries. If you don't exercise regularly, go for a brisk 35 to 45 minute walk at least five times a week leading up to your vacation. Studies show that people who exercise experience half as many colds or flus as people who don't stay active. Plus, you'll be in better shape to explore the fabulous new locale you're jetting off to.
Last but not least, stick with your healthy routine leading up to and during your vacation (as best as you can) by getting lots of sleep (a known immunity booster) and avoiding stress, which should be easy after you've arrived—healthy—at your destination.