WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Feb. 10, 2017 – If the last blast of winter has you
longing for sun-soaked beaches in tropical locales, be sure to stop at the drug
store for sunscreen and insect repellant before leaving for spring vacation.
like the Caribbean and South and Central America, where it is already
summertime, people can potentially be exposed to health risks that they may not
have at home,” said Christopher Ohl, M.D., infectious disease specialist and
director of the International Travel Clinic at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “They
aren’t life threatening, but they can certainly wreck a vacation.”
don’t realize that the closer you get to the equator the faster you get
sunburned. Be especially careful on the beach or at poolside where the water
reflects sunlight and intensifies the burn potential, Ohl said. In the Caribbean
and Central America, people can get sunburned in as little as 10 to 15 minutes,
so wear sunscreen and a tee shirt or cover-up during the middle of the day when
the sun is strongest.
about what you eat and drink can help prevent traveler’s diarrhea. Bottled
water, carbonated beverages, coffee, tea, cooked food and peelable fruit are
considered the best options, Ohl said. Some travelers may want to talk with their
doctor about taking along an antibiotic to use for treatment of traveler’s
diarrhea should they get it while traveling.
travel destinations also can put people at greater risk of contracting mosquito-borne
Malaria – Areas most at risk are northern
South America, eastern Panama, Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic),
Guatemala, Honduras and parts of southern Mexico. Ohl suggests bringing bed
netting to sleep under and a good insect repellant with 30 to 35 percent DEET. Talk
with your doctor or travel medicine specialist before leaving to see if you
also need to be on anti-malarial pills.
Dengue fever – Transmitted by daytime-biting
mosquitos, the disease is prevalent throughout the tropics in villages, small
towns and urban areas or where beaches are backed by trees. Symptoms include headache
with high fever and severe body aches.
the worst case of flu you’ve ever had,” Ohl said. “It probably won’t kill you
but you’ll wish you were dead for a few days. There isn’t a vaccine or medicine
so you just need to avoid mosquito bites. Although mosquitos aren’t a problem on
the beach, you certainly can get bitten if you pull your chair back into the
shade of trees lining the beach.”
Zika – Miami Beach and Puerto Rico are still
considered risk areas. If out in the sun and wind, mosquitos aren’t a problem, Ohl
said, but more of an issue when you get back into cabanas at resorts and
the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Zika is primarily a concern
for women who are pregnant or for people thinking about starting a family. Women
should consider not getting pregnant for eight weeks after returning from a
Zika-prone area, Ohl said. Men can spread Zika through their sperm for up to
six months after contracting the virus, and should consider using barrier
contraceptives during that time frame.
Chikungunya – The Caribbean and Central America have
sporadic cases. The virus causes fever, rash and joint aches that can last a while,
Ohl said, so again avoiding mosquitos is the best protection.
If you want
to prevent both sunburn and mosquito bites, Ohl said, the best way is to put
sunscreen on first and then wait 15 to 30 minutes before applying insect
repellant. Ohl prefers ointment or cream repellants because they last longer on
the skin, are easier to apply and to carry with you in 2 to 3 ounce tubes.
one more tip to ensure a healthy spring vacation: Be sure you’ve gotten a flu
shot before traveling. In tropical areas, influenza circulates throughout the
year but at a lower level. Spring break occurs at the tail end of flu season in the
U.S., and you can get it from other people on the plane.