We’re all deep into planning our summer vacations, but don’t forget to include your own health in the preparations.
Give yourself at least a month to research the health risks of the places you’re traveling to. Many vaccines require multiple shots and may take a few weeks to strengthen your immune system. Common ones include hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, and any boosters you might need. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has country-specific summaries of medicines and vaccines. Check their website at www.cdc.gov/travel.
Your first aid kit should include sunscreen (at least SPF 30), hand sanitizer with alcohol, bandages, an antibiotic ointment, chewable antacid pills for heartburn, and an anti-itch cream such as over-the-counter (OTC) steroid hydrocortisone. It’s also a good idea to pack both child and adult versions of pain medicines, as you never know what the local pharmacy will have.
Many families will be traveling in tropical climates and staying at beach resorts. The main concerns are stomach infections and diseases transmitted through mosquitoes, such as malaria, dengue fever, typhoid fever, and Japanese encephalitis.
Travelers should take anti-malarial medicines for the duration of their trip. In China, we usually prescribe doxycycline, which must be taken every day and continue to be taken for 28 days after the trip. Malaria can lay dormant for months, so it’s important to finish the medicine.
The best treatment is prevention. Use effective anti-mosquito spray containing Picaridin or at least 20 percent DEET. Pediatric groups have rated DEET safe for children over 2 months of age.
The most common cause of a ruined vacation is diarrhea. My favorite OTC medicine for this is loperamide (immodium), which is effective for slowing down watery, non-bloody diarrhea. Other OTC remedies include the charcoal powder Smecta and probiotics, which are pill forms of the healthy bacteria found in yogurt. Both are also available for infants and toddlers.
Diarrhea is often caused by bacterial infections, so you should consider packing antibiotics as well. Many doctors now prescribe azithromycin, which must be taken as soon as diarrhea symptoms start.
If you take daily medication for a chronic disease, bring enough to cover your trip – and maybe a bit more in case an elephant tramples them. Also keep a detailed list of your prescription safe in case you need to replace your medication.
Enjoy your trip and stay healthy!
Need more info?
Dr.Richard Saint Cyr is a family doctor at Beijing United Family Hospital, and the director of clinical marketing and communications. He runs the blog www.myhealthbeijing.com.
This article originally appeared on p23 of the beijingkids April 2014 issue. Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com