New country, new germs: What you need to know about travel and illness

New country, new germs: What you need to know about travel and illness

Taking the trip of a lifetime involves a lot of preparation. We often spend hours and hours packing for the anticipated weather; making sure our insurance is in order; booking reservations; getting all required vaccines; and double- and triple-checking our lists to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything important.


Often travelers assume that the vaccines they’re required to get will be all the protection they need. However, traveling to a new place — even somewhere that doesn’t seem that “different” from your own town or city — involves being exposed to all kinds of pathogens that your body is unfamiliar with. While most of these are just new strains of cold and flu viruses, there are some bugs, fungi, and parasites that can really pack a whollop if you’re not prepared. There are several easy precautions you can take that can stave off additional hassles. After all, who wants to spend the trip of a lifetime in another country’s ER?




Here is the Vaccine Centers and Travel Medicine Clinic’s top 10  travel tips, plus a bonus tip from me:


1. Get advice from a travel health professional before you leave. Six to eight weeks before departure, consult your travel medicine specialist for the most up to date immunization recommendation and consultation. In addition to the illnesses that you’re required to get vaccinated against, ask about other ailments that travelers are vulnerable to in that place. You don’t need to be paranoid, but educating yourself is one way that you can maximize your enjoyment of your trip.

2.  Let your body adjust once you arrive. Drink plenty of (filtered!) fluids and take some time to just rest upon arrival. Take a multivitamin along with you to help keep your immune system strong.

3.  Protect yourself from disease-bearing insects. Don’t forget the repellant!

4.  Never go barefoot….not even on the beach. In addition to sharp objects and creatures like jelly fish, you can also expose yourself to microscopic spores that embed themselves in the soles of your feet.

5.  Make sure you water is purified. Buy bottled water, or bring your own filter. This is not a place to skimp on quality: if you buy your own, get a filter that eliminates waterborne bacteria and protozoan parasites, heavy metals, and other contaminants.

6.  Consume only well cooked food. This goes for veggies, too — for example, veggies that are picked by someone who did not wash his hands and that are then undercooked can still carry Ecoli, which can make you extremely ill.

7.  Fruits and veggies from the market? Wash it, peel it, or forget it!

8.  Pre-fill your prescriptions, as they may not be available at your destination. It’s a good idea to get a broad-spectrum antibiotic to take with you in case you really need it.

9.  Don’t swim in rivers, lakes or streams. Unknown undercurrents, debris that isn’t visible on the surface, microscopic pathogens, and predatory animals all lurk in unfamiliar waters.

10.  Choose means of transportation carefully. Use trains, buses, or taxis when available. Use caution with “non-official” means of transport. Trust your gut instinct: if it seems fishy, don’t do it.

BONUS – 11.  And my personal tip, based on years of travel and tour-leading experience: Always asked your doctor for generic prescriptions and give a copy to your tour director in case of an emergency.


Here are some links for more information:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention Traveler Tips:

CIA world book of facts:

The Vaccine Center and Travel Medicine: 702-800-2723, or email at


Make the most of your trip! Be as healthy as you can be, and take reasonable precautions to avoid unnecessary illness and injury. While I’m sure the hospitals are great wherever you’re going, you don’t really need to test the theory!