Should Pollution Stop You From Traveling?

Shubert Ciencia, Flickr

Unless you’re traveling in the far backcountry, you’re bound to experience some pollution on the road. Go to New York City and there will be grime on your face when you return to the hotel room at night. But does the amount of pollution in a city or country stop you from traveling there?

In China, tourism has seen a serious drop in response to the country’s “airpocalypse.” In January the air was designated as hazardous to human health for several consecutive days, and the travelers haven’t been the same since; from January to June, tourism has dropped by 5%. In Beijing, it’s even worse, with the number of foreign tourists visiting the country’s capital falling by 15%. “… the air pollution trends in China will be difficult to reverse and their impacts will be significantly negative on the tourism industry,” said Tim Tyrrell, former director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.China isn’t alone. In northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has experienced a similar situation, with tourists avoiding the city during the spring when a lot of “slash-and-burn” farming takes place — that’s burning forest in order to make room for fields. And in Rome, you can’t cruise the Tiber river anymore on account of all of the trash in it.

But when it comes to pollution and tourism, it’s a two-way street. The effects of tourism on the state of air quality and beyond is just as big of a problem. Then of course there are those travelers who are moved to seek out the polluted areas of the world. But should pollution stop you from traveling?

In places where pollution is a serious issue, it’s a factor worth thinking about. In India for example, air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death. Not that a visit to the Taj Mahal will inevitably be your last, but if you think that you as a traveler are immune, think again. Check travel alerts and be aware of the air quality of the places you are traveling. Being informed is better than being sick.

Who Has Europe’s Dirtiest Currency?

Think about how many hands the average dollar bill passes through; all jokes about “dirty money” aside, it’s practically impossible for the money that you carry in your wallet to be clean. But some bills are dirtier than others.

Researchers at Oxford put European currencies and banknotes to the test, finding that British pounds are actually cleaner than Euros. On average European bills and coins contain 26,000 bacteria, while UK currency has around 18,200.

How dirty is that? According to Ian Thompson, Professor of Engineering Science at Oxford, 11,000 bacteria is enough to pass on an infection. Makes you want to go wash your hands after paying for your souvenirs doesn’t it?

Surprisingly enough, clean and efficient Scandinavia actually tops the list of dirty cash. The dirtiest currency was the Denmark krone, at 40,266 bacteria, with the Swedish crown at 39,600 not far behind.

Maybe it’s another reason to get behind the Euro?

[Photo Credit: Jixar]

How To Avoid The Flu Epidemic While Traveling

You’ve probably heard reports about the flu epidemic that’s spreading across the country crippling hospitals and leaving thousands of people suffering through the debilitating symptoms of the virus. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention says this year’s flu season is likely to be one of the worst in 10 years. It’s not even the peak of the flu season and already 47 states are experiencing widespread outbreaks.

For travelers, the chances of catching the flu are already higher than normal – all that time spent in crowded and confined spaces with people from all over the globe leaves them vulnerable to picking up the illness. So how can you avoid catching the flu during your travels? Here are six precautions you can take to keep yourself healthy.

1. First and foremost, get a flu shot. While not guaranteed to stop you from getting sick (the current flu shot is said to be 62 percent effective), it’s still the best defense we have. Whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, the good news is that the flu shot administered in the U.S. will protect you from most major strains of the virus around the world.

2. Get vaccinated in advance. We’ve written before about how many airports have set up clinics offering flu shots to travelers, and that’s a trend that’s continuing this year. However, it takes some time for the flu shot to take full effect. So if you really want to ensure that you’re protected from the flu, you need to get vaccinated at least two weeks before your trip.

3. Avoid flying out of airports known for spreading disease. With so many people from all over the world milling about, it’s no surprise that airports are a prime place to pick up the flu. However, certain airports are much more dangerous than others when it comes to spreading illnesses, due to factors like travel patterns, connections to other airports, and the amount of time passengers sit around waiting for flights. The most germ-laden airports are not necessarily the biggest or busiest, although JFK and LAX do top the list. By flying out of alternate airports, you can at least lower your chances of being exposed to the flu virus.4. Use a nasal mist on flights. If you’ve ever had the experience getting the flu after a flight, you’re not alone. A study by the Journal of Environmental Health Research found that the dry cabin air on flights was what led more people to catch colds and flus while flying. Basically, when humidity levels are really low, the mucus in your nose and mouth change, making you more vulnerable to viruses. While there’s not much you can do about the cabin air, you can try to keep your airways moist by using a nasal spray. Drinking hot beverages and staying hydrated in general could also help.

5. Wash your hands often, using soap. Hand washing is a simple and effective way of keeping the flu at bay, so as a traveler, it’s a good idea to carry hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes so you can clean your hands even when you don’t have access to water. It’s especially convenient when you’re about to eat a meal on a flight and don’t have access to a lavatory because the food service cart is blocking the way.

6. Wear a surgical facemask. There’s doubt as to whether a facemask can really prevent you from catching the flu – some experts say that facemasks are good at stopping sick people from spraying the germs they cough up but may not stop you from breathing in air particles that could make you ill. However, wearing a mask can’t hurt, so if you’re really worried about catching the flu during your travels, you might want to don one when you’re in crowded or confined areas. At the very least, it’ll stop you from touching your nose and mouth, which is how the flu often enters your body.

[Disclaimer: Information in this article should not substitute for advice from a qualified medical professional. Please speak to your doctor before starting any new course of treatment. For more information about the flu see www.flu.gov]

[Photo credit: Flickr user Bob B. Brown]

Ten reasons I thought I had malaria symptoms (but I didn’t)

Malaria SymptomsSometimes, fear of the worst gets the best of you. That’s what happened to me last week when, having recently traveled to Zambia, I thought I had malaria symptoms. Am I crazy? No. Am I usually a hypochondriac? Not at all — but that’s partially due to the fact that I almost never get sick. As a matter of fact, that’s the issue behind #3.

Ten reasons I thought I had malaria symptoms (but I didn’t)

1. I had been in Zambia.

Pre traveling to Zambia, I went to the doctor to get shots for Hepatitis A and Typhoid (that one hurts like a jerkstore), as well as prescriptions for Cipro and Malarone — a malaria prevention medication. Every travel document I received warned me and rewarned me that I was visiting a “malaria zone,” and I definitely came home with a fair few mosquito bites.

2. I missed a pill. Maybe more.

You have to start taking Malarone a couple days in advance of travel, then take one at the same time every day until seven days after you get back. The pill, like most pills, is not 100 percent effective even if you get it right, but I didn’t get it right. One night, I forgot to take my pill until after dinner (I’d been taking it at 6 and took it at 10), and after I got back, I completely forgot to take one on a Saturday. I read my instructions and they said to just skip it and take the next one at my normal time.

And what? And pray?

3. I got a cold.

Most people wouldn’t think twice about getting a cold, but I am one of those lucky folks who almost never (knock on wood) gets sick. When I developed a fuzzy head and a cough about ten days after getting back, I couldn’t help but think, just in the back of my mind: “Do I have malaria?”

4. I Googled.

As anyone with a computer would, I googled the symptoms for malaria. Our friends at WebMD (I know) informed me that the incubation period could be anywhere from nine days to ten months. Great. Symptoms:

  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Headache.
  • Sweats.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dry (nonproductive) cough.
  • Muscle and/or back pain.
  • Enlarged spleen.

I wasn’t vomiting, didn’t know where my spleen was and hadn’t taken my temperature, but the rest was definitely going on. An even less heartening statement followed: “Symptoms may appear in cycles and may come and go at different intensities and for different lengths of time. But, especially at the beginning of the illness, the symptoms may not follow this typical pattern.”

Great.

5. I slept a ton.

I’m a good sleeper and all, but even after my cold symptoms started to diminish, I was suddenly sleeping like 10 hours per night, and feeling sleepy during the day. Does this happen to everyone now and then? Yes. But it was happening to me, Potential Malaria Victim Annie.

7. I felt “different.”

Perhaps it was psychosomatic, but I couldn’t help feeling that something was wrong. I was probably just still getting over the cold (and coping with the side effects of Nyquil), but I didn’t feel “normal.” I was sleepy, as I mentioned, and woozy and had no energy. This continued until a week after the cold hit. I wasn’t even getting as much work done as I should have been. At this point, I wasn’t sure I had malaria symptoms, but I was keeping an eye on it.

6. I had sudden, outrageous bathroom hell.

I’d been feeling nauseous all day. It had been my husband’s birthday the night before, so I attributed it to being out late, but suddenly, at 3:30 PM on a Tuesday afternoon, I was in the bathroom vomiting. It happened once, then again, and I still wasn’t feeling better. I sent an email cancelling my plans for the night, then was back in the bathroom. By an hour later, I had called my husband at work, sobbing and begging him to come home for fear I was going to pass out and choke on my own vomit. I was really sick. And, as the vomiting had finally come, I was pretty sure I had malaria.

8. I couldn’t move.

Unlike with the flu, during which you get a few minutes of glorious “I feel okay” time after you throw up, I was completely incapacitated. I spent twenty minutes just sitting on the bathroom floor with my cat looking at me pensively. When I finally made it into bed, the phone rang and I couldn’t look to see who it was, because even turning on my side made me dizzy and out of breath. I was obviously suffering from a violent strain of malaria, and probably near death. I lay paralyzed, worrying about my spleen.

9. I had a fever.

My husband came home terrified and immediately gauged that I had a fever (and kindly brought me Cheerios and a bucket). That was it. The final nail in my coffin. Even if I got better, I would have this strain of malaria for the rest of my life, however short that might be.

10. I’m an idiot.

My husband said “I’ve never seen you this sick!” … and that triggered me to think of the last time I’d been so sick. I couldn’t think of any instance, any precedent at all until … oh wait … that time I got food poisoning in London and threw up the second I got to Glasgow for about 18 hours straight. As I ate Cheerios one by one, about an hour later, my fever was gone. Shortly after that, I was eating Cheerios by handfuls.

At last, a far less dizzy me ventured into the restroom and had bathroom hell … the other way. I stepped out concerned that though I felt a little better, I was clearly still sick. My husband smiled and said “Honey, I think you’re in the final stages of food poisoning.”

Oh.

Whoops.

So, after a harrowing food poisoning experience and a completely harmless cold, about two days later, I felt completely fine — and I have felt fine ever since. I write this not just to overshare, but to confess, and to assure you that if you’ve ever convinced yourself you have a possibly fatal disease after traveling, you’re not crazy.

Or, you know, we’re both crazy.

[Photo by James Jordan via Flickr.]

Stop getting sick when you fly – Airplane tip

Forget buying expensive products that promise to keep you healthy when you fly. This simple, but unglamorous trick, prevents me from getting sick every time.

Before I head to the airport, I put a generous amount of antibiotic ointment on a cotton swab and then coat the inside of my nose. It creates a barrier for the germs and keeps my nose from becoming dry and irritated while breathing the recycled air in the plane.

(Of course, I have no medical proof, but I never get sick after flying when I remember to do this.)