How to Stay Healthy While Traveling in the Tropics

Two Parts:Preparing to TravelKeeping Healthy In-Country

Travel is becoming increasingly less expensive and the world keeps gets smaller, spurring many people to explore their surroundings. Warm, tropical destinations are popular destinations to relax and unwind. However, tropical regions can also come with health hazards from insects and contaminated food or water.[1] But by taking some simple precautions, you can enjoy your vacation and minimize the risk of contracting an illness that requires treatment or medical attention.

Part 1
Preparing to Travel

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    Get ready ahead of your trip. If you are traveling to another country or even a different region of your own country, careful preparation is an important part of your trip. This can help ensure that places you visit don’t present any serious health hazards and may minimize your risk of contracting an illness before you leave.[2]
    • The more information you gather and advance preparations you make, the the more you can minimize the risk for health problems.[3]
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    Inform yourself about in-country conditions. One of the most integral parts of preparation is informing yourself about the conditions in the country or place to which you plan to travel. Reading about specific conditions can alert you to any health risks and other factors for which you need to prepare or avoid.[4]
    • You’ll want to look for general information about things such as water and food supply and general hygiene conditions.[5]
    • In addition, you’ll want to look for information about outbreaks of viruses and diseases such as Ebola, H1N1, or avian flu.[6]
    • You can find copious information about travel in specific countries, including general conditions and travel advisories, from sources including the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, and United States Department of State.
    • If you book through a travel agent, she can also provide you vital information that you need before you travel. This includes vaccinations you need and food or water sources you should avoid.
    • Travel blogs also offer useful information that can help protect your health.
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    Book travel as early as possible. It’s a good rule of thumb to arrange your travel as far in advance as possible. This help ensure that you have sufficient time to get supplies you may need ready and get any necessary vaccinations.[7]
    • You may want to hire a travel agent who specializes in travel to the tropics, as she can book places that she knows pose little health risk to you. Make sure to let her know about any medical conditions you have that could pose further risks to your health.
    • Book with major companies or chains if you can. These are more likely to follow health, hygiene and safety standard to which you are accustomed, in turn minimizing your risk for health problems while in the tropics.
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    Vaccinate yourself against disease. There are a host of diseases prevalent in the tropics, including malaria, dengue, hepatitis, typhoid, yellow fever, and rabies.[8] Getting proper vaccinations can help prevent serious illness and may minimize your risk of exposure.[9]
    • It’s advisable to get vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B no matter where you are or are going.[10]
    • Consult sources including the WHO, CDC, and State Department to see which vaccinations are recommended for the country to which you are planning to travel.[11]
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    Create a travel health kit. Make yourself a small kit of items you may need in the event of a health issue. Putting together anti-diarrheal medication, bandages, or water sterilization tablets can help minimize your risk of contracting an illness. Your kit should include:[12]
    • Prescription medications, including an extra supply in case you lose or run out and can’t get to a pharmacy or doctor.
    • A pain reliever and fever reducer such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
    • Allergy medication
    • An assortment of band-aids.
    • Moleskin or blister care.
    • Gauze.
    • Electrolyte solution or powder.
    • Antibiotic ointment.
    • Sunscreen.
    • Anti-malarials
    • A broad spectrum anti-biotic.[13]
    • Water purification tablets.
    • Anti-diarrhea medication.
    • A sewing kit to repair holes in clothing, which can deter insects from biting you.[14]
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    Carry emergency information. If you prepare carefully for your trip, you may not run into a problem, but it’s advisable carry information such as medications and phone numbers of in case an emergency arises. This can help people contact a doctor or administer proper treatment in a timely manner.
    • Keep a list of medications you take and any allergies you have.
    • Include the phone numbers for your doctor and emergency contacts like family members or the closest embassy or consulate.
    • You may also want to have contact information for a local doctor or hospital at each location.

Part 2
Keeping Healthy In-Country

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    Wash your hands frequently. Hand hygiene is one excellent way to help prevent illness. Being scrupulous about your hygiene and washing hands before meals and after using the bathroom may help minimize your risk for contamination and illness.[15]
    • Use warm or hot water and mild soap if it is available.
    • You can use hand sanitizer if you can’t find water or soap.
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    Follow good water and food practices. Many infectious diseases found in tropical regions are transmitted through contaminated food and water. By following some guidelines, you can minimize your risk of contracting most illnesses.[16] These include:
    • Use bottled water for drinking and to brush your teeth if the sanitation is poor. If you are unsure, be safe and use bottled water. If bottled water isn’t available, you can use a water purification tablet.
    • Avoid getting ice in your drinks, which can also contain contaminants. Your safest bets for drinks are bottled and carbonated drinks with intact seals and drinks made of boiled water. You may also want to use straws that you have brought from home to drink beverages.
    • Avoid salads, and other uncooked fruits or vegetables unless you have washed and peeled them yourself.
    • Avoid food stored at room temperature or that has been exposed to flies.
    • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products and raw or undercooked seafood.
    • Eat only hard-cooked eggs and nothing with runny yolks or that is raw.
    • Do not eat “bush meat” or local wild animals such as bats or monkeys.
    • Eat food that is freshly prepared only if it is thoroughly cooked and served piping hot.[17][18]
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    Deter insects. Insect bites are another source of illness and disease in tropical countries. Deterring them from you may minimize your risk for contracting diseases or even just being uncomfortable from inflamed bites.[19] You can avoid insect bites by:
    • Staying away from areas that are infested with insects that bite.
    • Staying indoors during the hours of dusk and dawn, which is when many insects bite.
    • Using products containing DEET, which studies have shown is the most effective insect repellant.
    • Wearing loose-fitting long pants and shirts. Many insects, especially mosquitoes, can bite through tight-fitting clothes.
    • Using a mosquito net may help keep mosquitos at bay in the evening.[20]
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    Practice safe sex. Unsafe sexual practices can expose any travelers to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV, as well as unwanted pregnancy. Using abstinence or safe sex practices can prevent a host of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.[21]
    • Do not have sex with prostitutes while visiting another country. Not only does this put you at a higher risk of contracting an STD, but you may also end up supporting human trafficking or be found guilty of sex with a minor.[22]
    • Abstinence is the best way to ensure that you will not get an STD, so you may want to avoid sex altogether while you are in the tropics.
    • Always use a latex condom if you do decide to have sex with another consenting adult. If you are allergic to latex, then use a non-latex version but avoid natural membrane condoms, such as sheep's skin, because these will not protect against STDs.
    • If you are a woman, then you may also want to take birth control pills to prevent unwanted pregnancy. However, keep in mind that birth control pills will not protect you against STDs, so it is important to use a male latex condom as well.[23]
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    Stay hydrated. It’s vital to your health to stay hydrated by drinking enough. Women need at least nine cups of water a day and men should have at least 13 cups. However, because you often sweat more in tropical heat and humidity, you may need up to 16 cups a day.[24]
    • Make sure to follow the above guidelines on what to drink to prevent illness.
    • If you get dehydrated, get indoors and cool your skin as possible. You’ll also need to make sure you get enough water or other liquids.[25]
    • It’s also important to your health to stay hydrated. Women should drink at least 9 cups of water a day. Men should have at least 13 cups. You may need up to 16 cups of water a day if you are very active or pregnant.[26]
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    Apply sunscreen. The sun in the tropics is generally stronger than in other regions of the world. Apply sunscreen regularly to help protect yourself from painful sunburn or sun poisoning.
    • Get a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects you from UVA and UVB.
    • Reapply sunscreen all over your body every two hours or more often if you sweat or go in the water.[27]


  • When sleeping under the bed net, stay as far away as possible from the sides so that no part of your skin touches it, which can provide some extra protection.


  • There is always risk of illness, injury, and crime, no matter where you go. Staying healthy abroad means being conscious of what you expose yourself to as well as what you put into your body.

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Categories: Travel Health