Avoiding or minimizing health problems while abroad will be easier if you are prepared. Carrying the necessary “tools”, whether it is bandages or knowledge of a region, will definitely help you stay healthy. Here are some thoughts on avoiding health hazards in the first place.
Water is the most important substance you can put into your body. But it has to be the right kind - free of protozoa and other bacteria that your body isn’t used to. Check out our food and water section for more on this. Water is essential to your body functioning correctly. It flushes out the bad stuff in your body and keeps your muscles and organs working efficiently. Drink lots of fluids in warm climates and watch out for dark-yellow urine, a sure sign of dehydration. Drink before you are thirsty.
It is also important to eat a balanced diet. Travelling by backpack on a budget, many travelers sacrifice their diet to save a few bucks. Make sure that you are getting the vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Buy fruits and vegetables at small markets to save money. If you are unsure of the quality of meats you can get plenty of protein from eggs, beans and nuts. Taking a small container of vitamins with you isn’t a bad idea, but make sure you keep them in the original vitamin container to prevent unnecessary hassles at borders (they may be mistaken as drugs).
When choosing foods, remember a popular rule — if you can cook it, boil it or peel it, you can eat it. Fruits that have peels are always a safe choice. Beware of fruits like watermelons. It is not unheard of for a vendor to inject water into these fruits to increase weight and thus, the price.
Don’t forget personal hygiene either. When you have a chance to have a warm shower, take it. The next one may be days away. As well, the simple matter of washing your hands regularly will do wonders at preventing many kinds of germs from entering your body.
If you do feel yourself getting sick, whether from a cold or even blisters, slow down and take some time to take care of yourself. Take inventory of your body and decide where your priorities lie. Slowing down for a few days to overcome an illness is a better alternative than struggling through a week of high-paced traveling while sick or injured.
Most diarrhea attacks are self-limiting and clear up in a few days. The important thing is to avoid becoming dehydrated. As soon as diarrhea starts, drink more fluids, such as bottled, boiled or treated water, or weak tea. Fruit juice (diluted with safe water) or soup may also be taken. If diarrhea continues for more than one day, prepare and drink an ORS solution (Oral Rehydration Salts) and continue to eat normally. If ORS are not available, mix 6 level teaspoons of sugar with 1 level teaspoon of salt in one litre of safe water.
If diarrhea lasts for more than 3 days and/or there are very frequent watery bowel movements, blood in the stools, repeated vomiting or fever, it is recommended that you seek medical help. Antidiarrheals (e.g. loperamide) are not recommended but may be used, in addition to fluids for symptomatic relief.
Risk Factors While Abroad
Staying healthy and avoiding disease and physical accidents involves more than just eating properly and staying clean. The risks associated with even everyday maladies are escalated when traveling abroad. Many third world countries are not well prepared for serious injuries. A compound fracture while in the middle of Nowhere, Africa can quickly turn into a life-threatening injury. Never mind the thought of requiring a blood transfusion while in certain regions of the Dark Continent!
Medical facilities in some countries can be inefficient, may be staffed by poorly-trained personnel and often contain relatively primitive equipment. According to the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), health infrastructure in Africa may even be non-existent in some regions. If it becomes necessary to airlift you out of a region to a facility with higher-quality health care, the costs could run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Try to use common sense and assess the potential consequences of risky activities.
Also, be aware that many countries’ governments do not enforce any sort of regulations on the safety requirements of vehicles, food or even buildings (metal bars across fire-escape windows are not uncommon in larger Chinese cities). Check out that rental car or bus for yourself and seriously consider your options…if you have any.
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