Sun and surf are top priorities for many people who travel to exotic locations for “spring break. But health and safety risks may lurk behind the scenes in some countries.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers several tips to help ensure smooth sailing before, during and after spring break.
Before your trip
- Vaccines or medicines may be recommended depending on your destination. See your doctor or a health care professional at least one month before you depart for an international trip.
- Check the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories and alerts by country. Register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program in case of an emergency.
- Pack a travel health kit with items you might need on your trip, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and condoms. If you forget something like sunscreen, you probably can buy it at your destination, but medicine brands, dosage and quality may differ. Bring written prescriptions.
- Many health insurance plans don’t cover medical care in other countries; check yours. Consider buying trip cancellation, travel insurance or travel medical insurance, especially if you will be going to a remote place.
During your trip
- Be careful when tasting local food and drink. In developing countries, eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot: son’t eat fresh vegetables or fruits unless you can peel them; drink bottled, sealed beverages; and avoid ice since it’s probably made with tap water.
- Use insect repellent and other measures to prevent insect bites that can cause diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever and Zika.
- Practice sun protection. Remember you can get a sunburn when it’s cloudy. Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15, a hat and sunglasses.
- Choose safe transportation, wear a seat belt and be alert when crossing the street. Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death among healthy travelers.
Specific health risks
Zika: Many popular spring break destinations in the Caribbean, Central and South America and Mexico have a risk of Zika. Because the virus can cause birth defects and is spread by mosquitoes and sex, travelers to at-risk areas should prevent mosquito bites and use condoms during sex. The CDC advises pregnant women not to travel to areas with a risk of Zika. Check the CDC’s Zika page for information by country.
Yellow fever: Brazil has an ongoing yellow fever outbreak, so travelers should check the risk level at their specific destination. Get a yellow fever vaccine at least 10 days before travel (only certain U.S. clinics offer the yellow fever vaccine; find a clinic near you) and prevent mosquito bites, which is how the virus spreads.
Flu: Many countries have reported widespread flu outbreaks. Get your annual flu shot at least two weeks before a trip. During travel, wash your hands often and avoid people who are coughing or appear sick.
Measles. There are outbreaks in popular places such as Brazil, France, Greece and Italy. Make sure your MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine is up to date.
Norovirus: Outbreaks of this virus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, have been reported on cruise ships. Wash your hands frequently and practice safe eating and drinking habits during on-shore excursions.
Hepatitis B: Avoid getting tattoos or piercings abroad to prevent infection caused by the hepatitis B virus.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): Use condoms to reduce your risk.
After your trip
Don’t let a preventable illness or poor planning ruin your trip or your return home.