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Before You Go: If You Haven’t Got Your Health, You Haven’t Got Anything

This is the only insect I want to look at up close. (Mindo, Ecuador)

If you’ve been seeing a lot of gross pictures of mosquitos on your Facebook and Twitter feeds lately, you can blame it on Zika. (And you’re welcome for the picture of the more appealing insect above.)

The Zika virus is having a moment in the public health spotlight after being tied to serious birth defects in Brazil. Transmitted by mosquitos, there’s no vaccine for the Zika virus, and the primary prevention is mosquito repellant. Health officials are now advising pregnant women to postpone traveling to countries where the virus is being transmitted.

All that gloom and doom brings up an important issue that too many travelers leave out of their travel planning: their health. One of the tenets of “traveling like a Mockingbird” (click here to read more about that) is to be a health-responsible traveler. That means ensuring that your travels don’t endanger your health or anyone else’s.

First and foremost, don’t travel when you’re sick. You’ll be miserable, for one thing, but you also risk spreading your illness to your fellow travelers and to your local hosts (not cool). Instead, buy travel insurance to protect against this possibility.

Equally important, take every reasonable precaution to prevent illness while you’re traveling. In countries that have strained health infrastructures, you may not be able to receive adequate treatment, and besides, there’s no reason to add to their health systems’ burdens unnecessarily. Vaccines are a critical component of this precaution. Anti-malarial drugs and antibiotics, as well as non-pharmaceutical measures such as mosquito repellants and portable water filters, may also be appropriate. And of course, pay attention to the news, so when things like the Zika virus come up, you’re well informed.

Being health-responsible is so important to us at Mockingbird that we require our travelers to get all recommended vaccines and to purchase travel insurance; we also alert our travelers to any health risks in our destinations. In turn, I often rely on the CDC, which offers an excellent resource for international travelers. Visit their Traveler’s Health webpage (here), select your destination, and you’ll get detailed information about recommended vaccines and other health advisories specific to that country. You can also go to a travel health clinic, which will do the research for you and advise you on which vaccines you need; they can also administer the vaccines and write prescriptions.

It’s easy to forget something like vaccines when you’re in the midst of planning a trip. I will confess that even I didn’t remember to check my vaccines until a couple weeks before I left for Ecuador; fortunately, that was just the right amount of time to get a couple of my vaccinations topped up. And unfortunately, many (healthy) people consider themselves “immune” (figuratively speaking) from the infectious diseases that lurk in many parts of the world. (Actually, even George Clooney got malaria once.) Why risk your vacation, much less your life, with such a laissez-faire attitude?

Your health should be near the top of your travel to-do list. Being healthy is fundamental to a happy, productive, successful life; it’s also essential to great travel.

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