Don’t let illness wreck travel: Be prepared

If you read Gadling’s travel series Catching the Travel Bug about being sick on the road, you found stories that attest to the fact that even seasoned travelers get sick from time to time. Travel to a new place and there are germs that your body is just not used to. But, if you’re prepared, whatever bug you catch won’t stick around to totally ruin a vacation or linger with continued health problems once you return.

Before you embark on a trip, make sure you’re immunizations are up to par. According to the World Health Organization, only 34% of the people who travel to places with hepatitis A get immunized against it. Dumb. When heading to places with malaria, only 8% take malaria prevention pills. Double dumb. The result of this neglect is that 30,000 travelers get malaria every year. Gad!

Considering that even a cold can put a damper on a vacation, malaria would do a real number. Typhoid wouldn’t be too swell either, another disease that’s preventable with a shot. In the Columbus Dispatch article where I read about this laxness towards immunization, one doctor told about a family who refused to get immunized when heading to a country in Africa known to be a high risk area. The teenage boy came home with typhoid as a result. He ate street food, and worse, drank local water.

In general, I think street food is not a problem if it’s being served cooked, it’s hot–meaning coming right off a grill, and you can see it being prepared, but local water? Nope.

Although getting immunized can add to the sticker price of a trip, it’s money well spent. Both malaria pills and immunizations have a certain time frame to be administered in order for them to be effective. If you’re planning on going to a country that is high risk where these treatments are recommended, don’t wait until it’s too late.

By the way, if you do get those shots, hang onto the record of when you got them. Some are good for several years so you can make the sticker price of shots go down by taking another trip to one of these locations before a shot expires.

Here is a link to a resource for what health details need to be taken care of before you travel to most African countries. And, here’s a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that has other travel health information.

Donating blood: Your travel history says yes or no

When I went to the library yesterday morning I wasn’t planning on donating blood, but there was a sweet older American Red Cross volunteer with lovely white hair that looks like spun sugar. She was so happy thinking that I had come to sign up when I walked towards her. I was actually on my way to meet with my writing group, but I didn’t want to disappoint her and promised I’d donate before I left. “Oh, you came back,” she said after I re-appeared to sign up on her sign-up sheet when my meeting was over.

Call me co-dependent, but there I was in the blood donation room running through the list of questions about my whereabouts to see if I could give blood or not. Sadly, I haven’t donated blood since I was in the Peace Corps. First, I couldn’t. After living in a country with malaria you’re supposed to wait for a few years. Now the wait is three years. Back when I was in the Peace Corps, I think it was longer. I kept trotting back to Africa each time my donation window appeared. With Mali, Senegal and The Gambia in my distant past, those weren’t a concern yesterday. Nigeria was a red flag.

Anyone who has lived in Nigeria since 1977 can’t donate blood. I have traveled there, but since it was only for 6 weeks I was given the all clear. (The other countries that have similar restrictions are: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Niger.) There is a form of HIV called Type O in these countries that blood screening can’t detect, thus the restriction.

Also on the list of concern are European countries. If you’ve been in European countries of a cumulative time of 5 months since January 1, 1980, you also can’t donate blood. There are more restrictions if you’ve lived or traveled in the United Kingdom. The restrictions are due to Mad Cow disease.

Looking at all the restrictions, it doesn’t take much for world travelers to get bumped off acceptable donor status. As more people travel, I wonder how much this will have an impact on blood supply? I’m glad I was able to add my pint since Asia, where I’ve lived and traveled the most, has an all clear. (See eligibility guidelines to see if you can donate.)