I’m sure many readers love to travel.
I do, too. After all, travel is associated with fun, education and happy times. No one intentionally leaves home to have a bad time. But, travel can sometimes result in a puke fest, be outright dangerous and occasionally fatal. So how can the hazards be avoided?
Flying to your destination: Some people have a fear of flying, especially to a destination when newspaper headlines have described a catastrophic airplane accident. But, according to the U.S. National Safety Council, there’s a greater chance of dying in a car crash on your way to the airport. For instance, the death rate from cars is 0.47 per 100 million passenger miles. For domestic flights, it’s 0.001 or 500 times safer. Every year 35,000 U.S citizens die in car accidents. Worldwide, only 898 people die in plane crashes. You don’t need to be a mathematician to decide to fly if you have the choice.
Driving in foreign countries: It may surprise you, but according to the World Health Organization, driving in the U.S. is the most hazardous in the world. Countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, Holland and the U.K. have a two-thirds lower mortality rate than the U.S. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, 85 per cent of all traffic deaths worldwide occur in low and middle-income countries. So paying more for your holiday is safer.
Can you decrease the risk of being one of the 25,000 people who are killed while travelling abroad every year? Road signs you cannot read or driving an unfamiliar car or learning to drive on the other side of the road may threaten your life. I recall driving in Buenos Aires where few drivers remain in one lane and many totally ignore traffic signals. Make sure the GPS is working before you drive away, keep pets in a carrier, wear seat belts, try not to drive at night and don’t drink and drive.
Going on a cruise: In 2016 one newspaper headline read, “Puke fest on one of the major cruise lines”. Gastrointestinal problems while cruising are usually due to norovirus infection resulting from contaminated food, water or infected objects. But don’t give up cruising, as there’s a 99 per cent chance of not getting sick. You can increase the odds of keeping well, however, by frequent washing of hands, using an alcohol-based sanitizer. As for shore excursions in developing countries, it’s safer to wait and eat when you return to the ship. On many cruise ships there’s a no-handshaking rule when meeting officers, so abide by the rule.
Destination in a high altitude region: Most travellers stick close to terra firma, but the adventurous tend to forget high altitudes can be deadly. Never ignore a disease called acute mountain sickness (AMS). It strikes some travellers in high altitude places. For instance, it affects 25 per cent of those who travel to the Colorado Rockies and 50 per cent of those who go to Peru or climb in the Himalayas. Some climbers fare better than others, but there’s a general rule that the higher you go and the faster you climb the greater the risk.
AMS occurs at high elevations of 8,000 feet above sea level. At this height there’s less oxygen, and hikers begin to complain of shortness of breath, lightheadedness, fatigue and nausea. These symptoms can occur regardless of age and sex. Moreover, just being in good physical condition is no protection against AMS. The worst scenario is pulmonary edema and occasional death.
To prevent AMS don’t try climbing a high altitude area if you have a lung or heart problem. But, even if you are in good health, increasing the amount of nitric oxide in the blood will decrease the risk of AMS. You can do this by starting to take one tablet of a natural remedy called Neo40, available at health food stores starting two weeks prior to and during the trip.
Be sure to check with a travel clinic if you’re going to a developing country where there’s increased risk of insect borne diseases such as malaria.
Make sure you have extra medication with you and always pack this in your carry-on bag. And never take the risk of leaving home without travel insurance.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a syndicated columnist whose medical column appears in The Guardian every Tuesday. Check out www.docgiff.com, which provides easy access to past columns and medical tips. For comments, readers are invited to email him at email@example.com. He can also be found on Twitter @GiffordJonesMD.