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Health Team

Take Proper Precautions for Summer Travel

Posted May 2, 2007

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— As summer draws near, more people are making travel plans. Many people will venture outside of the country, which could increase their risk of illness and injury. That risk should not keep travelers from going, but it should cause them to better plan for the trip.

With international travel, proper planning involves getting the right vaccines. The CDC Web site can help travelers find which vaccines they need, but health experts suggest making sure to get them four to six weeks before the trip.

"Some of the vaccines will require multiple doses, but even if they don't, in general, it takes about two to three weeks to build up immunity from the vaccine," said UNC infection disease expert Dr. David Weber.

A plane ride longer than four hours is the first potential health hazard. A closed cabin with re-circulated air is an ideal place for germs from tuberculosis or influenza to spread. Many people choose to bring along a surgical style mask to prevent breathing in airborne germs.

"There's not much you can do," Weber said. "When I travel, you like to have hand alcohol sanitizers," Weber said.

Another potential problem, particularly on flights longer than four hours, is deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Seated in one place for so long can lead to a blood clot forming in the back of the leg near the calf. It can break away, travel through the heart and into the lungs and possibly cause death.

Weber said staying well-hydrated is a way to avoid DVT.

"It's good to get up and walk and stretch. In fact, you'll find in most airlines little cards about how do that, every 30 minutes to an hour," Weber said.

Upon arriving on foreign soil, Weber said stay away from tap water. Instead, drink bottled water or other bottled or canned drinks.

"Keep in mind that that bottle of Coke may be perfectly sterile. It is, but if they put ice cubes in it, the bugs will be in the ice cubes," he said.

Weber said perhaps the biggest risk for injury in foreign countries is in motor vehicle accidents. Traffic laws are not always the same as they are in the United States, nor are rules strictly enforced everywhere. Roads are not marked as well in many lesser developed countries and in parts of Europe, people drive on the other side of the road.

Weber said people may plan to use public transportation, so plan those needs ahead of time. Also, since security is tighter in airports around the world, Weber said people with prescription medications make sure they bring them in clearly marked bottles or packages so there will not be any question about the drug.

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