Perhaps the most common health concern by most international travelers is related to food and water: travelers’ diarrhea (TD). In fact, the The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates between 20%-50% of international travelers, an estimated 10 million persons, develop TD. And although TD is rarely life-threatening, its symptoms aren’t comfortable for travelers.
To be sure, unsafe water and food may lead to serious health conditions.
According to MayoClinic.com, when it comes to food, the general rule of thumb is to boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it. The following includes a partial list of food and water travel tips from MayoClinic.com:
- Don’t buy from street vendors.
- Avoid upasteurized milk and diary products.
- Avoid raw or undercooked meat, fish and shellfish.
- Steer clear of moist food at room temperature (e.g., sauces and buffets).
- Munch on dry foods, such as breads.
- Munch on high-sugar-content foods, such as jellies and syrups.
- Stick to fruits and vegetables that you can peel yourself.
- Stay away from salads and unpeeled fruits, such as grapes and berries.
- Avoid unsterilized water.
- Avoid ice cubes or fruit juices made with tap water.
- Don’t swim in water that may be contaminated.
- Keep you mouth closed while showering.
- Drink canned or bottled drinks in their original containers.
- Wipe off any can or bottle before drinking or pouring.
- Wash your hands often and always before eating.
- Use bottled water to brush your teeth.
The CDC recommends well properly well-cooked and packaged foods are usually safe. Tap water, ice, unpasteurized milk and dairy products are associated with increased risk for TD. Safe beverages include bottled carbonated beverages, hot tea or coffee, beer, wine and appropriately treated or boiled water.
One potential source of infections that travelers may not consider is swimming. The CDC indicates that a variety of infections have been linked to wading or swimming in the ocean, freshwater lakes and rivers, and swimming pools, particularly if the swimmer’s head is submerged. Infections may include skin, ear, eye, respiratory, neurologic and diarrheal infections. Particular regions of concern include parts of the Caribbean, South America, Africa,and Asia.
The CDC also advises that accidental consumption of recreational water from lakes, rivers, oceans and inadequately treated swimming pools can spread these same diarrheal diseases as well as ear, eye, skin, respiratory, and neurologic infections.
More information may be obtained online at the CDC Travelers Health website.
or at MayoClinic.com.