Every year, millions of people enjoy the benefits of modern travel – finding adventure, relaxation and excitement at thousands of destinations around the world. And as more and more countries turn to tourism to boost their economies, travelers of every breed are finding new and exotic places to visit.
But as accessibility to exotic locales continues to increase, so does the need for proper education about the health risks of international travel. And while exploring a new environment is not inherently dangerous, it’s important to remember that every new place that you visit may bring with it a host of new threats. Let’s discuss a few of these probable health risks in the paragraphs below.
1. Waterborne and Foodborne and Illnesses
One of the best parts about traveling is getting the opportunity to enjoy exciting local and traditional foods. However, it’s important to be aware of how food preparation and sanitation differs around the world. Not only is it possible for vacationers to have allergic reactions to the food itself, but poor sanitation may introduce harmful bacteria into a traveler’s system, often causing diarrhea and indigestion which may result in hospitalization in some cases. This is especially true in the developing world, where access to clean water and other hygienic necessities may sometimes be limited.
2. Heightened Risk of Accidents
While foreign diseases and stomach illnesses seem like the most likely threats to those traveling abroad, the most common cause of injury to vacationers is actually an unfamiliarity with local traffic laws. Different countries have widely-varying ways of organizing pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic, and travelers who fail to familiarize themselves with the local laws often put themselves at a serious risk of getting involved in or causing an accident. In fact, vehicle-related accidents are the leading cause of death for U.S. citizens traveling abroad.
3. Foreign Diseases
Travelers visiting the developing world are often encouraged to prepare themselves for the possibility of encountering foreign diseases. New environments mean getting exposed to germs and bacteria of a new type, not to mention common illnesses that are rarely encountered in the developed world, like malaria, typhoid and cholera. One way that travelers can prepare themselves for such encounters is by taking pills and vaccination shots that either boost immunity or prevent contracting these illnesses.
4. The Danger of Treatment
Even though the possibility of someone contracting an infection/ disease or having an accident are certainly very real, there are additional health risks that can sometimes accompany medical treatment while traveling abroad. Some countries are not properly equipped to treat the sick or injured, or they may have levels of hygiene/ cleanliness that put the patient at risk of experiencing dangerous side effects.
Additional Factors that Increase Health Risks
The Destination – The geographical location that one is visiting is the most crucial factor to be considered when avoiding potential health risks. Many places in Africa, India and Southeast Asia are still quite underdeveloped when compared to the Western world. Here travelers are most likely to encounter airborne diseases and food-borne illnesses. Medical professionals in some of these regions may also be a bit behind their Western counterparts, increasing the risk of infection or negative reaction to treatment.
The Itinerary –In developing countries, urban areas are still much safer than those that are rural. If a traveler’s itinerary calls for hiking or mountain climbing in areas that are isolated and underdeveloped, they put themselves at risk of encountering poisonous wildlife and contracting illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes and foreign fauna.
Duration of Trip – Statistically speaking, a short stay in a foreign country bears far fewer health risks than a prolonged trip. The less adventurous the vacation, the less likely a traveler is expected to encounter potentially harmful stimuli.
Medical History of Traveler – One huge factor that is often overlooked when a person is traveling is his or her own personal health. Those who suffer from poor respiration, allergies, motion sickness or diabetes are much more likely to be hospitalized than those who are completely healthy. Similarly, those who are sick or have a weakened immune system are almost never encouraged to travel for extended periods of time.
So, it would be only fair to say that a detailed research must be carried out before planning a trip to the foreign locales. Personal issues like health conditions, age and immunity are important considerations in addition to the place of visit, duration and time of travel as well as the medial facilities available at your destination in case of emergencies.
Author: Michelle Holincheck, FNP