Experts share tips on how to prevent getting sick while traveling

If you haven’t already taken to the road or the skies this year, you can make those travel dreams a reality, all while keeping the need for flexibility in mind. Flight delays in crowded airports, lost baggage and unexpected sickness are travel realities no one dreams about, but everyone should prepare for.

An unexpected illness while traveling can upset any carefully planned itinerary. When it comes to travel today, Dr. Heidi Klein, an emergency physician at both the Emory Decatur and Emory Hillandale Emergency Departments, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that travelers should “plan for the best, and prepare for the worst.”

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Here are some tips for what to do if you get sick while traveling, and steps you can take to avoid getting sick.

Before you go

Vaccinate

It all begins before you leave home. Dr. Bob Dent, Chief Nursing Officer at the Emory Decatur and Emory Long-Term Acute Care Hospitals, said to make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date. And depending on your destination, that list might vary.

“October is when we generally start getting the flu vaccine,” Dent said. “Seniors will want to get the flu vaccine, and, if they haven’t already, the shingles vaccine.”

If you plan to travel internationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seeing your doctor at least a month prior for any relevant vaccines. They offer a comprehensive list of recommended vaccines by country at cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list, so you can go to your primary care physician prepared to get poked in the name of future fun.

Credit: Pexels

Credit: Pexels

Prepare a personal medical plan

Save time now by organizing information about your medical history, physicians and medications.

“The easiest thing to do — and we recommend this to all of our patients — is to take pictures of everything,” Klein said.

“Either take pictures of your medical history, your medication list, or your pill bottles. Send the pictures to your child or your grandchild so somebody else has a copy in case you’re not able to access your phone while you’re out.”

Communicate with your primary care physician

Dent recommends including a visit to your doctor as part of your travel planning. Communication with a trusted physician is key to having a successful trip.

“Let your physician know that you are traveling and find out if you have any precautionary things that need to occur for the travel itself,” Klein said.

Precautionary measures include making sure you have the prescription refills you need — especially if you plan to be gone for an extended period of time.

“All of the short-term measures you can do before you go can help prevent you from having complications while you’re gone,” Klein said.

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While you’re traveling

Pack smart

Dent recommends keeping all of your medications nearby, including those you might need in an emergency, such as aspirin and Tylenol.

“Sometimes you don’t know whether you’re going to get delayed. If you’re traveling by air, you want to put your medications on carry-on luggage. Then if your luggage gets lost or you’re delayed you’re going to have enough medication that’s going to get you through your travel.”

Klein also recommends packing and wearing masks to prevent transmission of illness.

“If you’re traveling in a (highly) crowded area and you know you are immunocompromised and you know you have risk factors, then follow the guidelines from the CDC as far as wearing your mask ... keeping that barrier of prevention around you so that you can prevent any kind of infectious transmission.”

Be aware of your medical history alongside common travel illnesses

Both Dent and Klein agree that the two most common travel illnesses include chest pain and gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea and vomiting.

Klein regularly sees travelers in the emergency room who suffer from chest pain, and being in the hospital far from home can feel scary.

For those with chronic illness, be aware that any other illness can be exacerbated by age and preexisting conditions. Dent says one of the most important things senior travelers can do is “be aware of the environment, where you are, and what’s going on. What you’re eating and drinking. Hydration is very important. Drink enough fluids and water.”

Stay compliant with your at-home medical schedule

Don’t let a change of scenery change the way you take care of yourself.

“Stay compliant with your medications and the medical regime that you have with your primary care doctor,” Klein said. “Don’t deviate from that because you’re out of your routine. It’s really easy for people to stop taking their medications, or not eat the way they’re supposed to.”

Credit: Pexels

Credit: Pexels

When to change your plans

“In the world of COVID, CDC regulations change daily,” Klein said. “If you’re experiencing fevers, chills, shortness of breath, and you’re able to have access to a test and you test positive, then that’s the point when you isolate.”

Be sure to check the most recent CDC recommendations for what to do if you test positive. Klein cautioned that with a positive COVID-19 test, “you will be changing your future plans.”

The bottom line is an easy one, according to Dent.

“If you’re sick, stay home.”

And if you have to go out, he urged wearing a mask to stop spreading the illness with anyone around you.

Despite the risks inherent in travel, Klein said it’s still worth it.

“When you’re traveling, you’re going to be exposed to the world. You need to be flexible and prepared that things aren’t necessarily going to go as you planned. Just have the mindset that things might not go as planned, and it’s OK. We should still travel. We should still enjoy ourselves. We should still get out there and enjoy the world, but it might not be as seamless as we want our travel plans to be right now.”

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