Food and Water Precautions for the International Traveler
Thanks to great strides in public health, many common diseases have been eliminated in the United States. However, many other countries around the world still have problems maintaining safe food and water supplies. People traveling to developing countries face the following health risks by consuming contaminated food and water:
- Traveler’s diarrhea. As many as 60 percent of travelers staying several weeks in developing countries contract traveler’s diarrhea, usually lasting three to seven days. According to R. B., D.O., at the OccNet clinic, “traveler’s diarrhea is the most commonly encountered illness. Oftentimes, antibiotics are not required if the illness is mild and of short duration. Medications may prolong or even worsen traveler’s diarrhea. The primary treatment is hydration.” OccNet is the occupational health service of the Health Alliance,
- Hepatitis A. This highly contagious viral disease attacks the liver. Symptoms including fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue, jaundice, and lack of appetite strike within three to four weeks after infection. All travelers who have not had hepatitis A infection or a vaccination are at risk.
- Typhoid fever. This severe bacterial infection can usually be prevented through immunization.
By following the appropriate food and water precautions, you can reduce your chances of contracting these illnesses:
- Avoid drinking iced or non-carbonated bottled fluids made from water of uncertain quality. When in doubt of water purity, use bottled or boiled water. Brush your teeth with safe water.
- Avoid raw fruits and vegetables, except those with thick, intact skin that you peel yourself. Avoid salads, nuts, unpasteurized dairy products, and cream sauces.
- Avoid undercooked foods, including meats and fish, which can contain parasites. Cold foods, including meats, are also more easily contaminated.
- Avoid food from street vendors or from restaurants that appear unclean.
- Avoid buffet foods, unless you know they are safe.
- Foods generally considered safe include cooked food that is served hot, canned foods, freshly boiled foods, such as pasta, breads, tortillas and other baked goods. Be aware that custards and cream pastries may be excellent vehicles for unhealthy bacteria.
With increased “globalization,” more Americans are traveling in these under-developed countries and are therefore being exposed to greater health risks. As a result, more doctors have begun to study travel medicine. Doctors who specialize in travel medicine can help prevent health problems among international travelers through their knowledge of the geographic distribution of diseases and factors of the environment, culture, climate, and ecology. “I encourage travelers to check with the Centers for Disease Control for the latest information on prevention measures or disease risks that are specific for their travel destination,” says Dr. B. Consider a consultation with a travel medicine specialist before traveling to any country where your health could be at risk.
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