Basic Health Precautions
Make yourself familiar with the health conditions of your host country and any other countries you plan to visit. Students should use the same precautions abroad that they would in any new location.
- Jetlag is real and mostly unavoidable. To acclimate quickly, avoid alcohol while traveling to your destination and attempt to get on to the local schedule as soon as possible. That said, expect to be tired, have disrupted sleep, and feel a little out of sorts for the first few days.
- Moderation is the key. Don't run yourself into the ground by trying to do too much all at once. Sickness occurs more frequently when you are tired and worn down.
- Heed the advise your local program managers/RDs give you about what to eat and where. They are speaking directly from experience!
- Avoid “street food” for at least the first 72 hours you are in a developing country.
- Eat well-balanced meals.
- Watch what you eat. If you are wary of the quality of the food and drink, make sure everything you eat is thoroughly cooked, peeled, or boiled to kill any bacteria.
- Take measures to reduce the risk of STIs (sexually transmitted infections).
- If you drink, consume alcohol in moderation. Intoxication can lead to unsafe and potentially deadly situations. Over 90% of the safety and security incidents the Study Abroad Office deals with each year are directly related to alcohol.
- Be informed! Know where to get treatment. When you settle in, find out where health care facilities are located. Check with your on-site program director for the name of a doctor and hospital.
- Depending on the region/location, you may not be able to drink tap water at all. In others, you may need water purification tablets. Ice may not be safe for consumption if made with tap water. Ask how the ice is made or avoid it.
- Insect repellent can be quite useful in many climates.
- Women may want to pack feminine hygiene products if they are not sure of the type available where they are traveling, though familiar products are available in most foreign countries.
Water HealthContaminated food or drinks can cause travelers diarrhea and other diseases. Travelers to developing countries are especially at risk. Reduce your risk by sticking to safe eating and drinking habits.
- Bottled or canned drinks: Drinks from factory-sealed bottles or cans are safe; however, dishonest vendors in some countries may sell tap water in bottles that are “sealed” with a drop of glue to mimic the factory seal. Carbonated drinks, such as sodas or sparkling water, are safest since the bubbles indicate that the bottle was sealed at the factory. If drinking directly from a can, wipe off the lip of the can before your mouth comes into contact with it.
- Hot drinks: Hot coffee or tea should be safe if it is served steaming hot. It’s okay to let it cool before you drink it, but be wary of coffee or tea that is served only warm or at room temperature. Be careful about adding things that may be contaminated (cream, lemon) to your hot drinks (sugar should be fine; see “Dry food” above).
- Milk: Pasteurized milk from a sealed bottle should be okay, but watch out for milk in open containers (such as pitchers) that may have been sitting at room temperature. This includes the cream you put in your coffee or tea. People who are pregnant or have weakened immune systems should stay away from unpasteurized milk or other dairy products (cheese, yogurt).
- Alcohol: The alcohol content of most liquors is sufficient to kill germs; however, stick to the guidelines above when choosing mixers and avoid drinks “on the rocks” (see “Ice” below). The alcohol content of beer and wine is probably not high enough to kill germs, but if it came from a sealed bottle or can, it should be okay.
- Tap water: In most developing countries, tap water should probably not be drunk, even in cities. This includes swallowing water when showering or brushing your teeth. In some areas, it may be advisable to brush your teeth with bottled water. Tap water can be disinfected by boiling, filtering, or chemically treating it, for example with chlorine.
- Fountain drinks: Sodas from a fountain are made by carbonating water and mixing it with flavored syrup. Since the water most likely came from the tap, these sodas are best avoided. Similarly, juice from a fountain is most likely juice concentrate mixed with tap water and should be avoided.
- Ice: Avoid ice in developing countries; it was likely made with tap water.