Staying healthy while abroad requires following many of the same good habits needed for staying healthy at home—with additional precautions depending on your location. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers advice for travel to specific countries in the “Stay Healthy and Safe” section of each country. Specific advice will also be given in program orientations. Here are a few general tips gathered from a variety of sources.
Before you leave:
- Prescription medications: Take enough of any prescription drugs you are taking to last you the length of the program. Keep your prescriptions in their original containers and take a copy of the prescription with the generic names of these drugs with you. Make sure that the containers clearly show your name and the prescription number on the label.
- Some countries restrict importation or supply of certain medications that are commonly prescribed in the U.S.; so check with the consulate, embassy or the study abroad program. If you take such a controlled medication, it will help to bring a copy of your medical records and a letter from your doctor stating the specific ingredients of the drugs in the compound as well as the amount and length of time you will be taking the medication. If you cannot take the medication with you, then you need to make arrangements prior to your departure.
- Eyeglasses: Pack extra eyeglasses or contact lenses with a written prescription. Take sufficient quantities of contact lens solution since it may not be readily available.
- Personal first aid kit: Take a first aid kit small enough that you will keep it with at all times, containing at least: adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment, aspirin or acetaminophen, antihistamine and anti-diarrhea medicine.
- Physical exam: It is recommended that you get a physical exam prior to going abroad, and complete any foreseeable medical or dental work beforehand. This will give you an opportunity to talk with your health care professionals about any general health precautions you need to take or pre-existing conditions you may have.
- Immunizations: Check with the Center for Disease Control for the recommended immunizations for the country in which you will be studying.
When you arrive:
- Take it easy the first few days: Because changes in climate, environment, diet, water, etc, can be physically and mentally stressful, and illnesses such as the flu, colds and gastrointestinal disorders tend to occur more frequently when we travel, it is recommended that you take it easy the first few days after you arrive.
- Hydration: To help your body adapt to your new location, drink plenty of water (bottled if recommended) for the first few days and avoid/reduce your intake of caffeinated drinks (coffee, some sodas, etc.) and alcoholic drinks.
- Water quality: If water quality is a concern at your location, drink bottled liquids only (or bottled sodas, juices, etc.), don't drink water from the faucet (or drinks made from tap water), ask for poured drinks without ice, and be cautious when eating raw fruits and vegetables.
- Sleep: As at home, get adequate amounts of sleep to bolster your physical and mental health.
- Food: Eat a balanced diet. Be wary of foods that look like they have been sitting out for some time, especially at buffets.
- Hygiene: Wash your hands with soap before meals.