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Be Proactive, Prepared and Protected for Safe and Healthy Travel

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | 06:23am

NASHVILLE – Many families and individuals spend the year planning for and dreaming of their spring or summer vacations. Trips to the beach, visits to faraway relatives and sessions at camp can be fun and exciting and the source of happy memories for years to come. The Tennessee Department of Health offers tips to help ensure all Tennessee travelers have safe and healthy trips this and every year.

“We urge Tennesseans to remember the three ‘Ps’ of safe and healthy travel:  be ‘Proactive, Prepared and Protected’ when it comes to your health and the health of companions while traveling,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “We should all try to be savvy travelers, learning about our destinations and preparing for health and safety needs like sun protection, prevention of bites from disease-carrying insects and protection against other illnesses and injury. It’s a lot better to prepare and prevent health problems than to have the worry and expense of treating them.”

Fun in the Sun
Sunny destinations are popular places to visit during spring and summer trips. Planning for protection against sunburn and other heat-related illnesses can prevent your happy holiday from turning horrible. Always wear SPF 15 or higher sunblock outdoors and apply it to any exposed skin.

“Remember very young children and the elderly are at greater risk for illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD. “People with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and lung disease are also at an increased risk of heat-related illnesses.”

Drink plenty of non-alcoholic, low-sugar drinks in hot weather, and avoid being outdoors during the hottest parts of the day to lower the risk of heat-related illness.

Safe Swimming
Planning to pack a swimsuit and beach towel for your getaway? Be sure to follow safe swimming practices every time you enjoy a pool, lake, ocean or other swimming destination.

“Try not to swallow the water regardless of the body of water you’re enjoying, as even treated water can contain pathogens that can cause illness,” said State Epidemiologist Tim F. Jones, MD. “When swimming in streams, lakes or ponds, swim only in water that is not stagnant, has no significant algae or foam and is not polluted by livestock or waterfowl.”

Practice good hygiene by showering with soap before swimming and washing hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and check diapers often, changing diapers in the restroom or somewhere else away from the pool. To prevent drowning, always designate a responsible adult to supervise all children playing in or around water. Those watching preschool-aged children should stay close enough to reach the children at all times. Always swim with a buddy and select sites with a trained lifeguard whenever possible. Wear life jackets when boating and avoid alcohol before or during swimming, boating or other water sports and while supervising children.

Fight the Bite
Insect bites may not only be itchy, but may transmit illness such as West Nile virus or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Preventing insect bites is the best way to avoid these and other illnesses transmitted by insects.

“Be aware that pests such as mosquitoes and ticks may be present at your vacation destination even if they’re not yet active where you live,” said State Medical Entomologist Abelardo Moncayo, PhD. “To avoid insect bites, cover skin with clothing whenever possible and use EPA-approved repellents. Follow all manufacturers’ directions for insect repellent use, paying particular attention to guidance for use on children and pregnant women.”

Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, so remember to wear repellents when doing outdoor activities during those times. Search your entire body for ticks upon return from a potentially tick-infested area. Remove any tick you find on your body by grasping with tweezers and pulling straight back if the tick is attached.

Destination Vaccination
Be sure you’re up to date on all routine vaccinations before traveling, especially when travelling internationally. Many diseases including measles and polio are still common in many parts of the world even though they rarely occur or have been eradicated in the United States. Schedule a visit to your health care provider, ideally four to six weeks before your trip, to discuss vaccinations you may need. Your health care provider may also recommend other preventive treatment such as medication for seasickness depending on your destination and method of travel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a wealth of information about travelers’ health available online at wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/.

Travel Safety
Don’t leave common sense at home when traveling. It’s always a good idea to buckle up when driving and to ensure all children are properly restrained in vehicles. Wear helmets, life jackets and other necessary protective devices when enjoying sports and recreational activities. Use the “buddy system” when visiting unfamiliar destinations, particularly if you have any concerns about safety. Do not accept rides, gifts, food or drinks from strangers. Leave expensive jewelry and clothing at home and do not carry excessive amounts of money. Avoid overindulging in alcohol, as it clouds judgment and increases your risk of injury. Give a friend or relative at home your itinerary, and if traveling internationally, copies of your passport data page and visas so you can be contacted in an emergency. For more tips for traveling abroad, visit http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/.

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