In light of the new coronavirus, you may have questions about traveling now. The decision to travel is a personal one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises everyone to stay informed and remain aware when traveling, and to heed all official advisories. AAA Travel Advisors are available to help you make informed travel plans. This includes discussing future vacation plans or evaluating existing bookings. Expert travel advisors can help you navigate all options available for bookings impacted by COVID-19. For more information about COVID-19, including risk assessments of travel destinations, visit the CDC website.

While the story below was published before COVID-19, the advice addressing general health concerns while traveling, including flu and venous thromboembolism, remains useful to travelers.

Unexpected health concerns while traveling can get in the way of doing all that you want. But there are steps you can take to stay healthy and active.

To help you get the most out of your travels, here are some tips for how to stay healthy on vacation from Dr. Kristina Angelo, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC.

Before you go

Getting the right shots can support a healthy, active lifestyle away from home, but make sure you’re prepared for the expense.

“Vaccines can be expensive,” Dr. Angelo says. “So we always recommend that people budget in the cost of vaccines as a part of the total cost of their trips.”

Here are a few more predeparture tips:

  • Get the shots you need for the countries you’re visiting.
  • See your health care provider a month before you travel so your immunity has time to build.
  • Make sure you’re up to date on all routine U.S. vaccines.
  • Stay apprised of travel advisories and alerts. Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

While traveling to your destination

Colds and flu

No one likes being on a crowded plane when it’s cold and flu season. Reduce your chances of catching something unpleasant by wiping down likely germ-gathering places.

“The germiest places on airplanes are actually the areas where people sit,” Dr. Angelo says. “So it’s mainly the tray table, the seatbelt buckles, airflow controls—not only the stuff that’s in the restroom.”

Here are a few more tips for how to stay healthy on vacation and keep the “bugs” at bay:

  • Get plenty of rest before your flight.
  • Stay hydrated to keep your nasal passages moist, which helps protect you from viruses and bacteria.
  • Carry disinfectant towels to wipe down germ-gathering areas such as tray tables, safety belt buckles and airflow controls.
  • Use hand sanitizer after touching surfaces that are likely to have germs.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your face. Germs need a point of entry, like the eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Anyone older than 6 months should get a flu shot before traveling.

How to stay healthy on vacation: venous thromboembolism

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) includes deep vein thrombosis (DVT)—a blood clot in a deep vein (usually in the leg)—and pulmonary embolism (PE)—a clot that travels to the lungs and blocks blood supply. The risk increases when a person is immobile four hours or more.

After Debbie Haas, vice president for travel products and services for AAA, traveled to the West Coast from Michigan in 2019, she noticed stiffness and swelling in her right calf—and shortness of breath. She went to a doctor, who immediately sent her to a hospital emergency room. Debbie underwent treatment for clots in her leg and lungs and has fully recovered. But the experience made an impression.

“All travelers taking flights and long road trips should be aware of the importance of hydration and frequent movement,” Debbie says. “DVT/PE is very underdiagnosed, so knowing the symptoms and seeking medical care without delay can minimize the health consequences.”

Symptoms for DVT include pain or tenderness (usually in the legs), swelling and unusual warmth in that area, and even some redness or discoloration of the skin where the DVT is located. Symptoms for a pulmonary embolism include difficulty breathing, fast or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, coughing up blood and lightheadedness.

“If you experience any symptoms while on an airplane, let one of the flight attendants know immediately,” Dr. Angelo says. “You likely will need to have a medical evaluation on the plane.”

General actions to help prevent VTE include leg exercises, walking around every two to three hours, wearing compression stockings, and, for high-risk travelers, taking medication to prevent blood clots.

Exercise tips

While at your vacation spot

Insect bites

Insects, such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and some flies, can spread disease. Some diseases, like malaria, dengue, Zika, yellow fever and Lyme, can be very serious. To reduce risk of bug bites:

  • Use EPA-registered insect repellent—with DEET, picaridin, IR 3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus—and apply as directed.
  • If you use sunscreen, apply it first, let it dry, and then apply repellent.
  • Cover exposed skin as much as possible and use bed nets.
  • Heed travel warnings and check with the CDC for more information.

And one more tip from Dr. Angelo: “Travelers should choose accommodations that either have air conditioning or screens because that will help prevent insects getting inside.”

Contaminated water or food

Travelers—particularly to developing nations—are at risk from contaminated water and food. How to stay healthy on vacation? Some planning and a healthy dose of common sense can help.

Water: Avoid tap water (even for brushing your teeth) and ice if the water source may not be clean. Choose boiled water (for three minutes), treated water, beverages boiled and served steaming hot, factory-sealed bottled water and canned beverages.

Food: Avoid raw food (fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood), food that has been unrefrigerated for several hours, street food (vendors may not follow strict food prep standards) and bush meat (wild game). Choose food that is cooked thoroughly and served steaming hot, dry or packaged foods, and fruits that have been washed in safe water and that you peel yourself.

“We recommend travelers pack a health travel kit,” Dr. Angelo says. “This would include things like over-the-counter medication and tweezers, for example, to remove ticks.”

“It’s also helpful for travelers to identify reliable and safe places to seek health care at their destination. Very few people’s health insurance in the United States covers them in other countries, so it’s important to first check that. If they do not have coverage, they should consider obtaining travel health insurance.”

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