Infectious Water Abroad: 5 Ways To Stay Healthy When Traveling

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steripen-water-purifier Traveling to foreign countries can be an exciting experience, and you will never forget the memories made, the people you meet along the way, and the scenes that inspired wonder. It can certainly be a life-altering experience, both in a good way, but also, unfortunately, in a bad way.

You may be traveling for personal reasons, a business trip, or even for research. Whatever the reason, you cannot solely rely on the travel-savvy skills of your team or company. It is important that you take your own steps to ensure that you stay healthy.

One principle that people often forget is the fact that when visiting a foreign country, you are also visiting a place that has its own germs. The locals are accustomed to these germs, but you are not. The same goes for foreigners visiting the U.S. or Europe: often times, tourists traveling to these developed countries also get sick. Why? Their immune systems have never dealt with that country’s germs.

While some countries are worse than others, especially Third World countries that do not possess the resources for effective water sanitization, this is basically a global principle. If you’re a frequent flyer, then there’s a good chance that you’ve caught a cold or two — there’s nothing like a place where the world’s diseases can come together.

To avoid these health problems, here are 5 ways that you can look after your health while traveling abroad. A multi-stage defensive approach is always the best policy … especially when you’re so far from home. If you want to know what could get you sick: It’s in the water.

1. Do research before you go!

Doing research about a country’s most common diseases, tips for avoiding them, and where to go in the event that you become ill is perhaps your best defense.

The very first source you should check out is the website for the US Department of State. From there, you will be able to receive updates, news and other helpful pointers before you leave for that country. In addition, they may also have information on approved hospitals near your destination, as well as healthcare facilities you should avoid.

Be sure to craft a plan in the event that you have become ill or injured. This way you won’t have to make a hasty decision when things have become dangerous.

2. Avoid consuming tap water.

Even in developed countries, the tap water isn’t always considered healthy, which is why Brita has become a household name. In certain foreign countries, drinking the tap water could be a death sentence.

According to Envisupply, this is becoming less of a problem, as filtration and groundwater monitoring devices such as the Solinst Water Level Meter are more readily available to test water and ensure the necessary level of sanitation. Nevertheless, there are still quite a few impoverished countries that deal with this issue. The root of the problem often has to do with inadequate sanitation and detrimental sewage and farming practices.

If you are using water that will, in some way, enter your body (i.e., brushing teeth, face washing), then only use bottled, prepackaged water.

3. Bring your own sanitization and filtration methods.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, boiling water for 1 minute is the best way to eliminate all health-threatening cryptosporidium.

There are also other methods available, such as utilizing a portable filter or iodine tablets. These can work quite well (filtering about 99%), but they aren’t totally effective like boiling. In addition, a good filter may set you back about $70-80, but it may be well worth it.

Nevertheless, you should only use these methods in the event that you do not have access to bottled water.

4. Watch what you eat.

In foreign countries, there is just no getting around it: There are some cuisines you simply should not sample, in part because they may include contaminated water. The New York Times posted a very helpful list of what you should avoid. Here is an abridged version of what to avoid, but do check out that list:

  • Raw meat and fish
  • Raw vegetables, especially if washed in contaminated water
  • Dairy products
  • Peeled fruits and vegetables
  • Open buffets
  • Ice from tap water
  • Street vendor food
  • Cold sauces

Also, you may want to consider bringing your own travel cookware along for the trip. When in doubt, cook well done.

5. Plan ‘B’.

While you may take all the best preliminary precautions, it is very difficult to completely avoid getting sick overseas, especially from something in the water.

You need a backup plan.

First, let your family and friends know where you’ll be going, that way you can have help from home, in the event of a problem.

Next, contact the State Department, and enroll for their STEP program, so that they know you are in the country. If a problem arises, you may be able to contact the U.S. embassy for a solution.

Also, consider buying travel insurance. Sure it may be pricey, but there’s nothing like a bunch of commandoes coming to your rescue!

Keep safely hydrated, everyone, and enjoy your travels.

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