Winter travelers: Beware and prepare

This article submitted by Molly Connors on 12/17/96.

For awhile after winter started, you didn't mind it. You are a hearty Minnesotan, after all. A little snow, some freezing rain, those below zero temperatures ... nothing like that is going to drive you south.
That was before your car's heater and defroster broke. On the same day, you lost your mittens and your car went in the ditch during the half-hour that the local 23.5 hour towing service had a coffee break.

On the same day, you saw an advertisement for a cheap vacation south. South, as in Mexico, the Carribean -- those warm places.

So, you gave in. You bought your ticket to a week of sunshine and blue water. You're all packed and the only thing you're waiting for is the plane.

But, wait. There are just a few things you should know before you take off on your tropical adventure.

In order to have a good time, you need to eat well and get plenty of rest while you're on vacation, said Dr. Tom Sult of the Paynesville Area Health Care System. Make sure you drink water and other fluids to avoid dehydration.

Time zone changes put extra stress on your body. These changes throw off your circadian rhythms -- your sleeping and waking cycle. Taking a multivitamin supplement can help alleviate the stress and serve as a "cheap insurance plan," Sult said. For some reason unknown to medical science, traveling from east to west is easier to adjust to than traveling from west to east.

Some travelers take melatonin, a hormone the brain uses to regulate the circadian rhythms, during the first three days of their vacation. Although long term use of melatonin isn't recommended, a few days shouldn't be harmful, Sult said.

No matter where you're headed, make sure you've got all your basic immunizations. All children should have routine childhood immunizations, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). All adults need a current (within the last 10 years) diptheria/tetanus booster. Anyone born in or after 1957 needs two doses of the measles/mumps rubella vaccine.

Flu shots aren't necessary, but MDH recommends them, since flu epidemics are possible in every area of the world. Also, everyone over 65 or anyone who has a chronic health problem (heart disease, kidney disease, etc.) should get a single, one time dose of pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine, which will protect against common flu complications.

As far as specific immunizations, you can call the MDH hotline at 612-623-5588. This hotline will help you with any specific foreign travel questions. Or, call the MDH immunization hotline at 1-800-657-3970, and they'll tell you which immunizations are needed or recommended for the area you'll be traveling in.

If you are taking any kind of prescription medication, bring a "generous supply," Sult said. In another country, a doctor may not be able to figure out what kind of medication you need. Also, the same medicine may have a different name in another country, Sult said.

Any other "personal supplies" that may be hard to find in another country should be packed, too. Even European countries may not carry the same brand name a traveler is used to.

Many countries, like those in South and Central America, do not require immunizations for entry into their country. The U.S., however, requires several immunizations for returning travelers. The U.S. won't let you back into the country unless you've been properly immunized, Sult said.

Both Sult and the MDH said all travelers should see their doctors before leaving for another country. Your doctor will be able to help you find out what shots you need. He or she may recommend that you take Pepto-Bismol before and during your trip to prevent "traveler's diarrhea."

Janet Fleck, who is a local representative of a larger travel agency, said most of the trips she arranges are to Mexico. None of Fleck's customers have ever gotten ill, she said.

"A lot of travel is common sense," Fleck said. If travelers make sure they drink purified water, are careful about where they eat and don't do things they wouldn't do back home, their vacation should go just fine.

Fleck feels that Mexico is a fairly safe area, as are Caribbean cruises. The larger tourist places in Mexico have purified water and good places to eat. On cruises, most food consumption takes place on board a ship.

Food consumption is especially important because the hepatitis A virus can be carried in food or drink. Hepatitis A is also transferred by person to person contact. The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through the blood supply, Sult said. Needles and transfusions of contaminated blood can result in hepatitis B.

Both hepatitis viruses result in inflamation of the liver. Infected persons turn yellow, because their livers aren't working. The A virus is usually a "major inconvenience" to travelers, Sult said. The effects of the B virus, on the other hand, can range from inconveniences to fatalities, Sult said.

Frequent travelers who plan on quiet, safe vacations may want to look into a hepatitis A vaccination, which will last for several years. There is also another treatment, which lasts only three months and doesn't work as well as the vaccination.

People taking adventure sports types of vacations, like those including mountain biking or rock climbing, may want to get vaccinations for both hepatitis A and B. These strenuous activities are more likely to result in injuries and the traveler may need blood transfusions.

Finally, pack and prepare according to the weather. The winter months are the rainy season in some countries, so a good raincoat can help make your vacation a positive experience. Check with travel agents for specific weather details. Mountain bikers would want lightweight long pants, since they'll probably cover a lot of singletrack. Sightseers want to pack good walking shoes.

In areas where malaria is common, protective clothing is more helpful than medical solutions. If you don't get bit by a malaria-carrying mosquito, you won't be infected. Sult said netting saturated with bug repellent is effective.

People are indoors for most of their life, but they tend to forget that when they arrive in warm climates for a week. Waterproof sunscreen -- between 15 and 30 SPF, Sult said -- should be liberally applied. Wear protective clothing: hats, long-sleeved, lightweight shirts and long pants. Avoid the lunchtime sun, which is the most harmful, if possible.

[ Return to Previous Menu | Archived Press Stories Menu | Return to the News Page ]