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June 18, 2010 > Travel Well This Summer!

Travel Well This Summer!

Health and Safety Tips for Your Summer Vacation

Whether you're planning an overseas jaunt to an exotic destination, a visit to grandma and grandpa in the Midwest or a closer-to-home camping trip in the Sierras, you'll enjoy your summer vacation more if you stay healthy and safe. So while you're arranging your flights, hotels, train schedules, rental cars and what to pack, why not plan ahead to stay healthy, too?

Stock Up Before You Go

According to Dr. Steven Curran, a family medicine physician on the Washington Hospital medical staff, its important to make sure you have an ample supply of any prescription and over-the-counter drugs that you need.

"Bring along any regular medications in their original containers, and always carry a complete list of any medications you are taking - including the dosage and what the medication is for - in case you need emergency medical care," he says.

Depending on where you are traveling, you may want to ask your doctor before your trip about other medicines you might need.

"If you are prone to motion sickness, you might want to purchase Dramamine or other over-the-counter remedies," Dr, Curran explains. "Those medications can cause drowsiness, so people who don't tolerate them well could ask about using a prescription scopolamine patch instead. People who've had serious allergic reactions to bee stings or insect bites might want to discuss getting an EpiPen to stop allergic reactions quickly before they become severe. Other medications to consider might include anti-diarrhea pills, antihistamines for seasonal allergies or - if you are traveling to very high altitudes - medicines for altitude sickness."

Have Fun in the Sun - Safely

Sunshine is a good source of Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium and protect against various health problems linked to Vitamin D deficiency. On the other hand, too much exposure to the sun's powerful rays can lead to skin cancer. "The key is to limit your sun exposure, wearing protecting clothing and using sunscreen," Dr. Curran says.

"There currently is some controversy as to the level of sun protection factor (SPF) you should have in your sunscreen," he notes. "Some reports question whether an SPF of 30 is necessarily twice as good as SPF 15 or that SPF 60 is four times as good. Nevertheless, the American Academy of Dermatology still recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 30 or more. The sunscreen should be water-resistant, and it should be re-applied at least every two hours."

Dr. Curran cautions that people also should wear sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB rays to avoid increasing the risk of developing cataracts. In addition, spending long hours in the sun and heat may cause heat exhaustion or even heat stroke, so it's important to drink plenty of water on hot days and get out of the heat immediately if you begin to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach.

Don't Let Insects "Bug" You

Because West Nile Virus is still a concern in California and elsewhere, avoiding bites from mosquitoes that carry the disease is important. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 20 percent of people infected with the virus will develop symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, body aches, swollen lymph glands and perhaps a skin rash. Children under age 2 and people with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems may be at risk for potentially life-threatening infections.

"Wear clothing with long sleeves and pants legs to help avoid mosquito bites," Dr. Curran says "You also can protect yourself by applying bug repellant and trying to avoid outdoor activities near dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Repellent containing DEET is the most effective, but DEET should not be used on infants under two months old."

Ticks that burrow into your skin can also cause various illnesses such as Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. "When you go out hiking, wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, and check yourself for ticks carefully," he advises. "If you try to remove a tick that is imbedded in your skin, be careful not to leave part of it in your skin. If you're near a medical facility, have a nurse or physician pull it out for you."

Going the Distance

If you plan to travel outside the U.S., the CDC advises scheduling a doctor appointment four to six weeks in advance to discuss your concerns and receive recommended or required vaccinations. Many vaccines take time to become effective, and some must be given in a series over a period of days or weeks.

"Consult with a doctor who is familiar with travel medicine," Dr. Curran says. "Certain countries may require specific vaccines to obtain a visa. And, while you're at it, you should discuss getting booster vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, polio, measles, mumps and rubella, if appropriate."

For more information about vaccinations recommended for travel abroad by the CDC, visit their web site at

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