Bacteria, Parasites and Viruses … Oh, My!

Aug 30, 2017

Souvenirs are great, unless you’re part of the 40 percent of travelers yearly who dive into a treasure trove of bacteria, parasites and viruses while traveling—and pick up an unwanted souvenir: an infectious disease.

Traveler’s diarrhea … Norovirus … Dengue fever … The list goes on. While you can get sick from traveling in any country, you and your students are especially at risk when exploring developing countries. Yet that’s no reason to stay within borders. Reduce the risk and stay healthy by following these tips.

Don’t drink the water.

The infrastructure for clean water, effective sewage and public health in many developing countries is failing, insufficient or non-existent. If possible, purchase bottled water for drinking—and check that all bottle caps are sealed. Dishonest vendors may sell tap water in bottles that are “”sealed”” with a drop of glue to mimic the factory seal.

If tap water is your only source—or if you want to limit the affect plastic bottles have on the environment (recycling isn’t always an option)—pack iodine tablets or water purifiers that kill bacteria, cysts and viruses. Alternatively, pack a device that will boil water for you.

Also avoid any drinks made with tap water. That includes ice.

Protect your feet.

Parasites can enter the skin of your feet and travel to different parts of the body. Never walk barefoot in any area—including hotel rooms and showers. Use flip-flops when showering.

Beware of fruits, vegetables and condiments.

It’s best to avoid fruits and vegetables that can’t be peeled. Yet fruits and vegetables might be safe if you can peel them yourself, or wash them in safe water.

Also stay away from freshly-squeezed juice, platters of cut-up fruits or vegetables, salads and any condiments made from fruits and vegetable—there’s no way to ensure they were prepared properly.

Use caution with roadside stands.

While the aroma might entice you, street vendors may not be held to the same hygiene standards as restaurants in developing countries. Unless the food is steaming hot when served, it’s best to eat somewhere else.

What meat is this?

Ask that question before it’s in your mouth. Not after.

Sure, eating new foods is part of the experience of traveling abroad. However, you really don’t want the meat you eat to be a surprise. Bushmeat—local wild game typically not eaten in the United States, such as bats and rodents—can be a source of animal-origin diseases.

Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Teach & Travel.