There’s nothing worse:

You’ve waited months for your vacation and now you’re sick.

Certainly, there are some situations that are out of our control when it comes to vacation, but preparation goes a long way when it comes to a getaway that goes off without a hitch. Here is a checklist to help:

Before you leave for vacation

• Consider where you are going. Are you traveling to Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico? There are viruses in these areas, like the Zika virus, that are dangerous to pregnant women. Don’t take the risk. 

• Do your homework. Make sure you’re keeping an eye on the area where you are traveling to make sure there are no outbreaks. For example, the Centers for Disease Control just posted an article about a Measles outbreak in Romania. Keep this website handy for health updates across the globe:

• Are you vaccinated against measles? If you are traveling internationally, talk to your doctor months in advance about vaccinations. Your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic, depending on the location. 

• Talk to your doctor about your chronic conditions. For example: if you have a heart condition, you may not want to travel to areas of high altitude, which can exacerbate many chronic conditions. 

• Make sure to pack all of your medications. And, if you are going to fly and dealing with a condition like a sinus infection or ear infection, be careful. Flying with these illnesses can be extremely painful, especially for young children. Get checked out before you leave. If you just started on antibiotic, consider using a nasal spray like Afrin to help ears and sinuses adjust to the elevation changes of the flight.

While on vacation

• Be careful in the sun, especially in warmer climates where the sun’s intensity is greater. Apply and reapply sunscreen often.

• Be aware of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness occurs when you cannot get enough oxygen from the air at high altitudes. This causes symptoms such as a headache, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. It most often when people who are not used to high altitudes go quickly from lower altitudes to 8000 feet (2438 m) or higher. Altitude sickness can be dangerous. It is smart to take special care if you go high-altitude hiking or camping (like in the Rockies) or have plans for a vacation or trek in high-altitude countries like Peru, Ecuador, or Nepal.

• Stay hydrated, but be careful of water in places like Mexico where parasites in the water can make you sick. While there are many resorts where the water is safe to drink, there are some places where it is not.  In these areas, also beware of salads, vegetables and fruit that are likely washed by water. Ice is a concern too.

After vacation

• If you get sick after vacation, be sure to tell your doctor where you were. There are some sicknesses that need to be treated with antibiotic and some that should not. For example, giardia, which is bacteria, should be treated with antibiotic, while certain E.coli should NOT be treated with antibiotic. I had a patient who had been traveling to San Diego. He had symptoms including bloody diarrhea. Once we found out about his travels, and that he had swam in the ocean, we were able to better diagnose the bacteria. Many people don’t realize even water off the coast of the U.S. can make you sick.

• Don’t forget to alert your doctor that you’ve been on vacation even months down the road as symptoms you are experiencing could be related.


Dr. Carolyn McClain is medical director of The Urgency Room.

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