Summer Vacations and Travel: Play Well, Stay Safe
Many people consider summer to be their favorite season. With COVID-19 restrictions being eased, many are planning to take their first vacation in more than a year. If you are preparing for summer vacation, be sure to follow these travel tips to be able to stay as safe as possible during COVID-19.
Here are some tips on how to reduce or avoid some of the most common injuries and illnesses that can occur during the summer season:
Summer brings increased exposure to solar radiation, which can be damaging to the skin. Too much sun exposure can cause sunburn, wrinkles, and skin cancers. Light-skinned people are more sensitive to sun exposure, but anyone can suffer skin damage and skin cancer, especially if exposed to the sun during midday outdoor activities. You can decrease your risk of skin damage by following these tips:
- Use a good sunscreen (with an SPF of 30 or more) and a wear wide-brimmed hat or use an umbrella when outdoors on sunny days for more than an hour. You can also wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, which will protect skin even more. Apply the sunscreen to all body parts that are not covered by your clothing.
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours while in the sun, or after you sweat or swim
- Wear a lip balm that has an SPF of 30 or more to protect your lips from damage
- See your physician right away if you notice any skin freckles or moles that change in size, shape, or color, or if you notice an area of skin that feels like sandpaper.
Injuries may occur with certain outdoor activities, such as swimming, hiking, camping, cycling, boating and road trips traveling by car. Children and teens may be more likely to have injuries from these activities. Here are some tips to stay injury-free:
- Make sure everyone wears seat belts during road trips.
- Teach children and teens about how to be safe while swimming (life jackets, lifeguard services and adult supervision present at all times), safe while bicycling (helmets), and safe while hiking and camping (buddy system).
- Make sure everyone is cleared by their family doctor before participating in intense activities such as heavy backpacking, long distance running, or high elevation sports such as mountain climbing or sky diving. Be sure to drink enough fluids such as water and drinks with added nutrients and not too much added sugar. Please avoid drinking too much caffeine or alcoholic beverages.
- Be sure to pack all your regular medications to take with you on the trip.
- Avoid alcohol when participating in activities that require strong coordination and balance, such as driving a vehicle, boating, cycling, surfing, or skiing (there is snow sometimes even in summer depending on where you go).
Food and waterborne illnesses
Food and waterborne illnesses (illnesses that come from food and water) happen more often in the summer and fall. It is usually caused by the contamination of food eaten outside the home, often at family gatherings, leading to food poisoning.
Symptoms of food poisoning can include nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting, and traveler’s diarrhea (soft or watery bowel movements). Here are some tips to prevent food and waterborne illnesses, as well as traveler’s diarrhea:
- Avoid eating meats and shellfish that are not fully cooked
- Avoid eating food at outdoor picnics that has not been kept refrigerated or has been left at room temperature for several hours, particularly on hot days
- Avoid drinking untreated water such as water from streams or wells
- If you must drink untreated water, first sterilize the water that is planned to be used for drinking by boiling it, filtering it, or by using chloride or iodide tablets (please read the instructions carefully). Your local outdoor equipment store will usually sell these products
- Avoid drinking raw milk
- Wash your hands with soap before preparing food
- Make sure cutting surfaces are thoroughly cleaned if used after cutting raw meats
If traveling in developing countries, in addition to the above recommendations:
- Drink bottled fluids or hot liquids
- Avoid adding ice to your liquid drinks; it is likely the ice is made from tap water which can make you sick because it is often unfiltered
- Eat foods that have been cooked and are served hot
- Eat only fruits that you peel for yourself
- Other things you can do to prevent the symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea:
- Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) may prevent or lower the symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea. Take 1 or 2 tablespoons (or two tablets) every 30 to 60 minutes for diarrhea as needed. Do not take more than eight doses in 24 hours. Please follow the directions on the label for more details on how to use this medication.
- Other medications such as Imodium AD and Lomotil may reduce symptoms, but do not use these if you have a high fever or if you have blood or pus in your stool. Please follow the directions on the label or ask your doctor for more details on how to use this medication.
- Antibiotics may be taken to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. However, these medications only should be used if prescribed by a doctor and by following your doctor’s instructions on how to use them.
In the United States, summer increases exposure to mosquitoes and other biting insects, such as ticks. Lyme disease occurs in the Pacific Northwest, Northeast and North Central regions. It also occurs in some forested areas of Europe and Asia. Lyme disease does not occur in the tropics. Malaria and dengue fever can be spread by mosquito bites in certain tropical countries.
To prevent bites from mosquitos, ticks and other insect bites, use DEET, which is a colorless, oily liquid that has a mild odor and is used as an insect repellent. DEET works by applying it on clothes and onto exposed skin. Never apply DEET to your eyelids, lips, or mouth. Mosquito coils are like a form of incense that can be used to reduce the number of mosquitoes in the area. Mosquito netting is especially useful for campouts and other outdoor activities. Medication to prevent Malaria (a serious infection that can be caused by mosquito bites) also is recommended for travel to some countries. Ask your doctor for more information based on your specific travel plans.
More on foreign travel
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding nonessential international travel at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means, only travel out of the country only if it is absolutely necessary until officials say we are safe from catching COVID-19. Do not travel outside of the country until you are fully vaccinated unless it is an emergency. If you must travel outside of the country, follow the CDC’s International Travel Recommendations during COVID-19.
- What to do if you become seriously ill while out of country: If you develop a serious illness while in a foreign country, contact the U.S. Embassy or consulate for help. Also contact your doctor if you are admitted to a hospital. Coverage for emergency care out of the country may or may not be covered by your health plan. Keep a copy of your Evidence of Coverage while you are traveling and call your health plan for more information as needed.
- Vaccines for foreign travel: There are vaccines recommended for a number of infectious diseases that may be common in the country to which you are traveling. Some examples include typhoid fever, yellow fever, hepatitis A and B, polio and Japanese encephalitis. For more information on which vaccines are recommended for your travel destination, including the COVID-19 vaccine, please ask your doctor, and check out the vaccine recommendations from vaccine recommendations from the CDC.
- Post-travel care: After you return home from traveling, contact your physician immediately if you become ill with fever, diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, rash, or other symptoms. Also after returning from travel, be on the lookout for COVID-19 symptoms. Be sure to self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19 if you do develop flu-like symptoms. Some illnesses, such as malaria or hepatitis, may not be apparent until weeks or months after your return home, so be sure to tell your doctor about any recent travel or wilderness trips if you become ill.
Keep up to date on COVID-19 travel guidelines
As vaccination numbers rise, borders reopen and travel bans ease, you're likely itching to get out of the house and enjoy all that summer has to offer. The CDC has updated its travel guidance for fully vaccinated travelers, but still strongly advises against any nonessential travel within the United States for unvaccinated individuals. Check the CDC website for the latest updates.
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If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately, call your doctor, or go to the emergency room/urgent care.