In this monthly column Dr. Zahra Bardai guides our path to well-being.
Canada has never shied away from ice and cold, but January has historically been a difficult month to bear – especially this year. Ice crystals threaten to invade every crevice, and with temperatures in the GTA reaching minus 30 degrees Celsius with wind chill, it’s no wonder that our thoughts turn to sunny destinations. Many of us look for those mid-season deals to resorts in the south, particularly the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. In the haste to pack and finalize travel plans, what sometimes get forgotten are travel health cautions.
Everyone should travel with medical insurance. Wherever you get your out-of-country medical insurance from (credit card companies, banks, travel agents or CAA), be aware of the policy and restrictions, and carry the emergency contact information on you. If you take regular medications, make sure you have enough for the duration of your trip (including a little extra for unforeseen delays or loss) and carry them on you in watertight containers with the pharmacy label prominently displayed. For those with allergies, wearing a medical alert bracelet is invaluable. I would also suggest carrying a basic first-aid kit. Your medical practitioner can assist you with determining what to carry in your first-aid kit based on your medical history and needs.
There are some other travel care basics to keep in mind while traveling to your resort destination. Sun care is a must. Vacationers get excited to see the sun after weeks of dealing with cold, dreary weather in Canada, but southern sun is much fiercer than what we are used to in the winter. Without sunscreen at SPF values over 30, the protection of sunhats, sunglasses and light long-sleeved clothing, there is a significant risk of sunburns. Keeping out of the sun’s rays during the mid-late morning to early afternoon hours when the sun’s effects are at their peak will also help reduce the risks associated with prolonged sun exposure.
Food and water precautions are also paramount. Many travel-related illnesses are food- and water-borne. This means that bacteria and parasites found in food and water can be ingested and usually cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Be wary of raw-food consumption to avoid these illnesses; if you must, stick to thick-skinned fruits and vegetables that can be peeled. Try to consume food that is well cooked and steaming hot. Keep well hydrated, but check to make sure that water and ice are purified.
Educate yourself about the country you will be visiting and any specific risks unique to that destination. It is always preferable to travel during the day. Avoid direct contact with local animals and wildlife. If you are sexually active, use condoms. There are a number of vaccines available specifically for travel, some of which are general while others are country-specific. If traveling to a malaria endemic area, prophylactic medication is recommended. Contact your local travel medical clinic for consultation regarding these immunizations and prophylactics. If you are planning a more specialized trip such as adventure travel, volunteering abroad, or are even planning on living locally with family or friends, make sure you see a travel medicine consultant prior to leaving.
But most importantly, of course, is to enjoy yourself! Take lots of pictures and build memories to help keep your thoughts warm when you return. For those of us who stay and brave the cold and ice, just remember that January also means that spring is right around the corner!