Limiting Your Exposure To Illness While Traveling

Nov 25, 2015

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Every year, thousands of travelers become ill during their journeys. While you can’t provide yourself with 100 percent protection, TPG Contributor Christine Cantera goes over steps you can take to minimize your risks of becoming sick while on the road.

Keep Up To Date On Current Risk Areas

It used to be that the contagious diseases travelers worried about were confined to specific regions of the world. This made it much easier to create a safety plan fairly far in advance. These days, however, easier and faster travel causes disease to spread rapidly – and often unpredictably.

In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now provides updates on contagious disease risks and prevention methods on a daily basis, not only on its website, but also through a phone app called TravWell. Once you download it to your phone, it automatically provides you with the most up-to-date information. It works even if you don’t have a current data connection, and contains details about outbreaks, the best preventative measures, what you should pack and it can even direct you to emergency services in most countries. It’s available as a free download from both the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Photo courtesy of KYTan /
Know that new types of food may upset your stomach. Image courtesy of

Protect Your Stomach

Stomach ailments are by far the most common problem travelers are likely to suffer while abroad. More often than not, it’s because your body isn’t used to certain types of foods; it isn’t simply a matter of bad drinking water or unclean restaurant kitchens. You build up tolerances to the types of food you’re used to eating, and so your body can reject new foods.

This is so common that the CDC has also built an app to help you figure out what is more or less likely to lead to Montezuma’s Revenge. It’s called Can I Eat This, and like TravWell, it is available for free download to Android and Apple devices. It has a search feature, so when you’re in a restaurant, you can open the app, respond to a couple of questions, and it will tell you if what you’re thinking about ordering is a good idea or not. Check, please!

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The CDC currently warns those traveling to Guinea and Sierra Leone about the risk of Ebola. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


When it comes to travel, Ebola is the most recent scare on most people’s minds. The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently in late-stage trials for an Ebola vaccine. At the moment, however, it’s only being used for front-line medical experts helping to treat and contain the virus, and isn’t available to the general public.

The good news is that Ebola is a fairly isolated disease, and you’re unlikely to contract it unless you’re in direct physical contact with people in certain areas of Africa. Currently, the CDC is warning those traveling to Guinea and Sierra Leone about Ebola; the rest of Africa and the world do not seem to be at risk at this point.

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Stay up to date on vaccinations. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


Of particular concern at the moment, according to the US Government’s official travel vaccine site, is measles. Although in 2004 only 37 Americans managed to contract measles, that number shot up to 668 by 2014. These cases can all be traced to Americans simply not getting vaccinated because they believe that measles has been eliminated in the US and that vaccines could cause autism in children (even though this has been proven false many times over). Your doctor should be more than willing to give you the measles vaccine if you haven’t already had it.

Polio continues to be a problem in Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, though this shouldn’t be an issue for most adult Americans. Until very recently, nearly all Americans were vaccinated against polio as children. That said, if you’re traveling to Eastern Europe with young children, make sure they’re vaccinated before you go.

Luckily, though, both measles and polio remain rare. What is far more common is catching the flu! Your immune system is generally lower when you’re traveling, which puts you at risk for catching any virus – and the flu is no exception. The good news is you can get a flu shot from any doctor and many pharmacies quickly and easily before you travel.

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Bring your own protection with you. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Preventing sexually transmitted diseases abroad is similar to doing so at home – simply practice safer sex with condoms. However, it’s a good idea to bring your own supply from home and not rely on local products; not every country has the same quality control standards as the US.

Also, you might not know this, but condoms in different countries are made in different sizes. If you’re used to one size, a new size could put you at risk. The WHO also advises against using any lubrication that contains Nonoxinol 9. Although many countries include this chemical in their lubrication and condom packaging because it can help prevent pregnancy, studies have shown that it can also increase the risk of HIV infection.

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Wash your hands and clothes regularly to prevent Norovirus. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


Norovirus tends to be on people’s minds because somewhere in the world, at least once a year, there’s an outbreak on a cruise ship. Generally, it starts out with one passenger being infected by bad food and then contagion spreads through the ship via human contact. While it’s rarely deadly, it can ruin a vacation due to fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Yikes!

The CDC’s advice on preventing Norovirus is pretty basic: Wash your hands and clothes regularly. Also, try to make sure that the surfaces you touch are as clean as possible.

Have Fun!

Please remember that travel illnesses are relatively rare and most trips won’t end in a doctor’s office. In general, if you’re careful and let the apps we’ve mentioned keep you up to date on preventative measures, you should be fine. Try to enjoy yourself – and remember, you could still get sick at home, so there’s no reason to deny yourself an adventure!

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