“The first thing I tell people is to start thinking about potential health issues as soon as you book your flight,” says Rajiv Narula, MD, travel-medicine expert and internal medicine physician at MidHudson Regional Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth). “Most people look up restaurants or resorts, and only realize they need vaccinations at the last minute.”
Consult a physician four to six weeks before departing; some vaccinations require multiple doses, spaced a few weeks apart. Describe your trip to your doctor (what you’ll do, where you’ll stay) and review your own health status so he or she can issue recommendations. Dr. Narula advises packing a medical kit with contents such as malaria pills, Tylenol, Imodium (for diarrhea), sunblock, disinfectant and condoms, because the Zika virus is sexually transmitted. He often prescribes antibiotics like Zithromax for patients to pack and recommends purchasing a lightweight UV pen to disinfect water. “You may know to avoid tap water, but in some countries, bottled water is regular water that is sealed,” he says. “With the UV pen, you can sanitize water in 40 seconds, ensuring you drink enough to stay hydrated.”
As for food, he advises patients: “Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it.” On long flights, avoid sleeping pills: You need to stay alert in case of emergencies. “Drink water, take walks down the aisles periodically and eat lightly,” he says. Finally, stress levels tend to spike before a trip, so find strategies to prevent your stress from clouding your thinking. “Otherwise, you could forget your passport or find it’s expired when you get to the airport.” For the latest travel advisories, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at CDC.gov; the World Health Organization, at WHO.int; or the International Society for Travel Medicine, at ISTM.org.
Do you have a health-related question for a WMCHealth physician or specialist? Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Just the Facts” in the subject heading. Your question may be featured in a future issue.