Schools are out and Long Island families are getting ready to embark on summer vacations, in some cases to far-off destinations. Parents will pack the requisite mosquito repellent, perhaps Dramamine® for motion sickness, and compression socks for the long flight. But exactly what are the most common maladies travelers need to prepare for? The Family Travel Clinic at NYU Winthrop Hospital has all the answers and, just in time for summer, shares travel safety tips, health risk alerts, and little-known facts regarding travel safety. It’s all part of the Family Travel Clinic’s comprehensive care that includes education, vaccinations, and preventative health measures to make trips in the United States and abroad as safe as possible.
“Americans are travelling more than ever, yet more than 60 percent of those who get sick on trips did not have a pretravel medical consultation,” said Theresa M. Fiorito, MD, an infectious disease specialist at NYU Winthrop’s Family Travel Clinic. “Travel medicine is a specialized branch of medicine that factors into patient care a unique subset of variables that includes exposure to infectious diseases, tainted food and water, altitude sickness, and more, and the knowledge and care imparted by travel medicine specialists can help prevent injuries and sickness.”
Most people presume, for example, that they need to protect against mosquito bites during dawn and dusk hours when in fact, different types of mosquitoes bite at different times of day. The dengue-carrying mosquito bites during the day, for example, whereas mosquitoes that transmit malaria bite at night. A travel medicine specialist can advise on the risks based on whether travel is to the “mosquito vector” that includes the Caribbean and Latin America, or to Europe, Africa, Asia, or the wilderness of Canada. No matter the location, Dr. Fiorito warns that DEET decreases a sunscreen’s SPF absorption if applied together, so if sunscreen is needed, travelers should apply it at least 30 minutes prior to insect repellant. DEET (30 percent) can be used on children 2 months and older. Also very effective against mosquitoes are clothes pretreated with the repellant Permethrin®, which can be found in most sporting goods stores. .
Other travel health-safety highlights
Be wary of petting local animals, such as stray dogs. A person can get rabies without being bitten, such as from the saliva of the animal infiltrating cuts on the neck or face.
For those who suffer from conditions such as hypertension, asthma, arrhythmia, a seizure disorder, or sickle cell anemia, check on the “ascent risk” of traveling to high altitudes, like in the Rocky Mountains or Machu Picchu, as reduced oxygen levels can pose serious health risks such as pulmonary edema. In addition, all travelers should avoid alcohol for the first 48 hours at high altitudes and stay well-hydrated.
To avoid diarrhea in areas with questionable water quality, Dr. Fiorito says of food: “Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.” That means peeling and eating an orange is fine, but not eating a fruit cocktail in watery syrup. With regards to liquids, travelers should also only brush their teeth with bottled or boiled water and forgo ice cubes. Highly effective for the rehydration of children are drinks such as rice water, or congee, while Imodium® is good to pack for older children and adults who might come down with diarrhea.
Check on whether prescription medications, such as a stimulant for a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), might present customs problems upon entering a country. Travel clinics, such as the one at NYU Winthrop, can write a letter confirming medical necessity and can even have that letter translated into the local language.
Beware of eating exotic fish in the Caribbean, like Lionfish that carries within it a toxin. If not prepared properly, the fish can cause severe reactions including vomiting, abdominal pain, tingling, sweating, and more—such as occurred to one traveler who thought he was eating “grilled sea bass.”
And regarding those long flights, compression socks are only indicated if you have a history of leg swelling, but deep-vein thrombosis isn’t just about the legs. Avoid tight pants and loosen waist belts since they can also compromise circulation, and those who have a history of blood clots should speak to a travel medicine physician about possibly beginning an anticoagulation regimen prior to a trip.
“Travel medicine is about identifying potential health risks for travelers and providing up-to-date advice specific to a destination,” added Dr. Fiorito. “Our priority is to make sure travelers, especially children, are safe and healthy. The last thing any family wants is to spend hard-earned money and time off bedridden in a hotel room, unable to enjoy their vacation.” The NYU Winthrop Family Travel Clinic is located in Mineola and can be reached at 516-663-9414.