'Don't let a drop of water touch your mouth' and other global travel tips

June 11, 2014 by Ellen Goldbaum, University at Buffalo
‘Don’t let a drop of water touch your mouth’ and other global travel tips
John Sellick counsels a UB student about international travel.

Nothing ruins a summer vacation faster than getting sick.

"Remember that most diseases are transmitted by food, water and insects," says John A. Sellick, Jr., DO, University at Buffalo associate professor in the Department of Medicine and hospital epidemiologist at Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System. "So get vaccinated, keep insects off you as much as possible and be careful with what you put in your mouth."

He gives tips for global travellers in a video, below.

Sellick is a member of the Infectious Diseases Division of the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He also is staff physician at the UB Student Health Services, where he counsels UB students on staying healthy while traveling, whether they are studying or volunteering abroad or they are international students going home for a visit.

"Many providers will tell you that most international travel is no big deal and requires no special precautions," says Sellick, "but I always have some students who come back to UB with infections after traveling abroad. Most are not life-threatening but why take the chance?"

Most physicians in the U.S. have no reason to stock vaccines that will rarely be used, he notes. That's why Sellick recommends that people contemplating international travel should contact a travel clinic. The clinics specialize in providing appropriate immunizations and counseling about precautions and risks in specific regions of the world.

"If you're staying in a five-star hotel downtown, the risks may be lower but they still exist," he says. "The risks go up considerably if you're traveling to a remote region or hiking in the rainforest. People who hike the Inca Trail in Peru will be about 10,000 feet above sea level. At those altitudes, they don't have to worry about malaria but they do need to take precautions against , which can strike if the ascent is taken too quickly."

While pre-travel medications may be prescribed to prevent malaria, there are no vaccinations or medications available to prevent other insect-borne illnesses, such as dengue and chikungunya fever, which are widely distributed in tropical areas. To prevent these illnesses, Sellick advises travelers to use insect repellant containing DEET (35-50 percent) and to cover their skin as much as possible. It also may be advisable to treat clothing with permethrin, an insect repellant, or to purchase clothing that has been pre-treated with it. If sleeping quarters are not screened-in, he says that a bed net treated with permethrin should be used.

Even those traveling to major tourist destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America, locations where many UB students travel to volunteer, should check with a travel clinic, Sellick says.

"Outside of the U.S., Canada, western Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, hepatitis A and typhoid fever are present in much of the world," Sellick adds. Both are typically spread by contaminated food and water.

"If students are going to Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) or Mexico, I make sure they are vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid fever, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," he says. Malaria also is present in most of Hispaniola and some areas in Mexico.

"I tell our students who travel to these areas: 'Do not put a drop of local water in your mouth,'" he says.

Along with hepatitis A virus and typhoid bacteria, many other infectious agents are transmitted by water.

"Consume only boiled, bottled (major brand) or carbonated beverages," Sellick says. Freezing does not kill so do not drink anything with ice.

"In most cases, you won't die from typhoid fever but it can cause severe illness," Sellick says. "The best thing to do is get vaccinated. That's especially important if you are taking immunosuppressing drugs, such as steroids, or medications for rheumatoid arthritis, because in those cases, could be lethal."

Sellick sums it up: "Go on your vacation. Have a great time. Don't come back sick."

Explore further: New study finds malaria, typhoid—not Ebola—biggest health threat for travelers to tropics

Related Stories

New study finds malaria, typhoid—not Ebola—biggest health threat for travelers to tropics

January 16, 2013
Feeling feverish after a visit to the tropics? It may not just be a bout with this year's flu. If you're a Western traveler, malaria and typhoid fever should top the list of diseases to discuss with your doctor when you return, ...

Insect repellents more important than ever as tropical tourism increases

June 2, 2014
Holidaymakers are being urged to use insect repellent to protect themselves against bites and the diseases they can spread, as trends show travel to tropical countries is rising among Britons.

Study finds high-risk travelers account for nearly one in five persons seeking pre-travel advice

October 10, 2013
Researchers from Boston University Schools of Medicine (BUSM) and Public Health (BUSPH) and Boston Medical Center (BMC) have found that high-risk travelers account for nearly 20 percent of patients using the five clinics ...

Vaccination against infectious disease low priority for Australian travellers

October 5, 2012
New research led by the University of Sydney's Family Medicine Research Centre reveals many Australians are inadequately protecting against potentially serious infectious diseases before travelling abroad.

Study reveals that preventing malaria in travelers to West Africa reduces health costs

September 23, 2013
Not only do U.S. travelers to West Africa who consult health providers before they leave and take prescribed preventive medications substantially reduce their risk of contracting malaria, they also reduce costs to their health ...

Recommended for you

Air pollution may shorten telomeres in newborns

January 24, 2018
A study conducted before and after the 2004 closure of a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China, found children born before the closure had shorter telomeres than those conceived and born after the plant stopped polluting ...

Number of older people with four or more diseases will double by 2035, say researchers

January 23, 2018
A study published today in Age and Ageing, the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society, reports that the number of older people diagnosed with four or more diseases will double between 2015 and 2035. A third ...

Placental accumulation of flame retardant chemical alters serotonin production in rats

January 22, 2018
A North Carolina State University-led research team has shown a connection between exposure to a widely used flame retardant chemical mixture and disruption of normal placental function in rats, leading to altered production ...

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.