By Chloe Mulliner, on November 28, 2014

Stay healthy during winter travels

Wintertime is prime time to visit your relatives, volunteer in a third-world country, or take that trip to Puerto Vallarta. Unfortunately, traveling during this season also can mean catching germs in an airplane or overseas. While getting sick during your travels is a possibility, there are several ways of avoiding it.

To understand the preventative measures travelers should take this season, we sat down with Dr. Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, who practices in Washington, D.C. Dr. Lin also is a contributor to ZocDoc, an online tool that helps patients find doctors and book appointments. He gave us the 411 on how to avoid contracting a sickness before you even hit the tarmac.

Expedia Viewfinder: What are some major epidemics about which travelers should be aware right now?

Dr. Lin: First, the Ebola virus outbreak continues to infect thousands of residents and healthcare workers in West Africa.

In terms of other epidemics, travelers to Central America and the Caribbean should wear long sleeves and use insect repellent containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) when outdoors to reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes carrying the Chikungunya virus. This virus causes a high fever, joint and muscle pain, and headaches three to seven days after the time of infection. There is no vaccine or treatment. Most people feel better after a week, but a few may take months to recover.

Expedia Viewfinder: What are some common immunizations needed for overseas travel?

Dr. Lin: It's always a good idea to update your tetanus and flu vaccines (if you're traveling during flu season), regardless of where you're traveling. Others that may be recommended depending on your destination include vaccines for hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever, and yellow fever. People traveling to areas of the world with malaria-carrying mosquitoes should start prophylactic medications before travel and continue taking them for up to four weeks after they return.

Viewfinder Tip: Share your itinerary with your doctor as early as possible to learn what vaccines or medications you may need.

Expedia Viewfinder: What are some of your tips for avoiding sickness while traveling overseas? 

Dr. Lin: To reduce the risk of contracting traveler's diarrhea, you should drink only water that has been bottled or boiled, and avoid eating uncooked vegetables, unpeeled fruits, and raw or undercooked meats. Other risky foods include cold sauces and salsas.

It's important to know that the leading cause of death in younger travelers is trauma, not infectious diseases. Traffic regulations in other countries may be unfamiliar to Americans, and if you are traveling on foot in urban areas, be aware that you may not have the right of way.

Older travelers are at higher risk of heart problems. This is especially true among sedentary adults who pursue strenuous travel activities (e.g., mountain climbing). Check with your family doctor if you have any questions about whether your physical fitness is adequate for your planned itinerary. In general, travelers to high altitudes should ascend slowly (less than 1,000 feet per day above 8,000 feet) to give their bodies time to adjust.

Expedia Viewfinder: What information should travelers bring with them in case they need medical assistance in another country?

Dr. Lin: You should carry your passport at all times for identification purposes, as well as phone numbers and e-mail addresses of emergency contacts within that country and back home. Carry your health insurance card, as well, since most insurance plans will pay for emergency medical care in countries where such care isn't free.

I recommend that you keep the card next to a list of all medications that you are taking, as well as any drug allergies, since you may not be in a condition to provide this information in an emergency. If your doctor offers a patient web portal or personal health record that is accessible online, you may want to keep your login information handy as well.

Don’t add a trip to the hospital to your travel itinerary. Follow these tips from ZocDoc to best ward of germs and diseases during your holiday vacation.

How do you stay healthy while traveling?