Just in Case: What to Do If You Get Sick on Vacation

You’re about to leave for a family reunion at the beach or a whitewater rafting adventure or a romantic camping trip off the beaten track. You have been looking forward to your trip all year, and chances are that it will be just as wonderful as you imagine it to be.

But, as every parent knows, accidents happen. Nasty summer colds sneak up on you. And then there are temperamental digestive tracts that may react badly to unfamiliar foods or a bit too much stimulation.

Without worrying too much about what could go wrong on vacation, there are steps you can take to be prepared…just in case.

Dr. Gregory Dann, a pediatrician and Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell, shares his best tips on how to stay safe and healthy during your time away from home.

Before you depart, research options for care at your destination.

In larger cities, urgent care clinics and hospital care are readily accessible. However, in rural areas, or in countries with which you are unfamiliar, it is never a bad idea to know beforehand where you can access urgent or emergency care, should that become necessary.

Bring copies of prescriptions with you.

These are always good to have on hand, both at home and away. It’s helpful for medical providers to have accurate prescription information so that the appropriate medication and dose can be prescribed, especially if the original prescription gets lost.

Consider bringing a first aid kit.

While not an absolute must, a first aid kit can be helpful to have on hand. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends including the following items in your kit:

  • 1% hydrocortisone cream
  • Antibacterial and antifungal ointments
  • A digital thermometer
  • Oral rehydration salts
  • Antiseptic wound cleaner
  • Aloe gel for sunburn
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Bandages
  • Disposable gloves
  • Q-tips
  • Tweezers
  • Eye drops

Be on the lookout for viral illnesses.

These can cause fever along with typical viral symptoms such as headache, muscle aches, stomach pain and fatigue. They can also present with vomiting and diarrhea, or cough and congestion with or without fever. Treat these just as you would at home, with plenty of fluids, bedrest and acetominophen or ibuprofen.

Protect yourself from insect bites, including ticks.

Let’s start with ticks. First, find out whether they are prevalent at your destination. Ticks live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas and are also found on animals. If you are spending time in higher-risk areas, pretreating your clothes with a permethrin-containing spray can add an additional layer of protection. After hikes or other outdoor activities, check yourself and your children as well as everyone’s clothes—and, of course, check your pets.

Showering is also recommended. Pay special attention to hair—the hair on your head as well as your body—as ticks can be harder to find there than on exposed skin. Tick removal should be accomplished with fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward, avoiding any twisting or jerking. After the tick is removed, clean the area and your hands with alcohol or soap and water.

As for other insects, if you are traveling internationally, make sure to consult with your physician before departure to find out which insects to look out for. Personal insecticide may be of benefit, but not for every type of travel. Wilderness? Yes. Disney World? Not so much!

Avoid getting dehydrated and overheated.

Drink plenty of water. Carry personal water bottles and refill them throughout the day. In significant heat, stay indoors with air conditioning or in the shade. Check the daily weather forecast to make sure you are adequately prepared for extreme temperatures.

Protect yourself from COVID-19 before, during and after your trip.

Check COVID-19 community levels at your destination before you leave, and make sure you’ve got a handle on any travel restrictions, masking guidelines, proof of vaccination and testing or quarantine requirements en route to your destination and once you arrive. Wearing a well-fitting mask on public transportation will also keep your COVID-19 risk at a minimum. After you return, if you have been exposed to the virus or if you develop symptoms, get tested right away.

Your primary care doctor is just a phone call or an email away.

Never forget that your primary care physician is likely to be accessible via telemedicine, including Video Visits, phone and email. We always want to make sure you are receiving appropriate care—care you feel comfortable with. Never hesitate to reach out to us!

If you're traveling this summer and need to reach a member of your family's care team, please reach out via Connect, the Weill Cornell Medicine app or weillcornell.org/doctors.

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