Stay well when you're away

IT'S ABOUT that time of year when many of us are thinking about a holiday.

Blame the cold weather but going somewhere like, oh, Hawaii, sounds like heaven, doesn't it?

The first hurdle, of course, is the cash. The second is getting time off work. And the third, surprisingly, might be that an airport is an excellent place to pick up a disease.

Honolulu, the hub of island weather, sun-bleached beaches and friendly locals, is in the top four places where the spread of an epidemic would be the fastest, say researchers.

While it sounds like something out of a Hollywood horror movie, American scientists have conducted one of the first studies to model the dynamics of disease spreading in the early stages of an outbreak.

They looked at 40 US airports and found the one that would spread the disease from its home city to other places the fastest would be New York's Kennedy International Airport, followed by airports in Los Angeles, Honolulu, and San Francisco.

In the past 10 years we have seen a number of disease outbreaks that have spread around the world, say researchers.

In 2003, the SARS outbreak took merely a few weeks to spread from Hong Kong to 37 countries, killing nearly 1000 people in its wake.

In 2009, the Swine Flu pandemic killed nearly 300,000 people worldwide.

To investigate such contagion patterns and hopefully slow them down, the scientists are now building mathematical models that incorporate ideas from complex network systems.

Their findings could form the basis for an initial evaluation of vaccine allocation strategies in the event of an outbreak.

They could also help inform national security agencies of the most vulnerable pathways for biological attacks in a densely connected world.

Outbreaks of new or scary viruses aside, travellers overseas have up to a 50 per cent chance of suffering travel-related illnesses, according to Dr Jonathan Cohen, medical director of Travel Clinics Australia.

That's a surprisingly high figure and it may make you feel smug about staying home, especially if you can't afford the price of an air ticket.

But, if you are thinking about taking a trip, and you'd like to stay healthy on holiday, here's a guide to doing it the right way.

  • Check with your GP about whether you will need any vaccinations. Be aware that some vaccinations require a course over weeks to months so find out about them at least eight weeks before departure.
  • Have a medical check up and think about a dental check up if you haven't had one recently.
  • Don't try to do 100 different things before you go on holiday, so you are a stress mess and come down with something the moment you hit new shores.
  • Take out holiday insurance. Always.
  • Pack a medical kit.
  • As well as any traditional items you may want to take, like bandaids, condoms, betadine, or painkillers, take a high quality acidophilus to have while on holiday.
  • If you take prescribed medication, make sure you have enough for the duration of your journey and a letter from your doctor that you can show to Customs if needed.
  • If you are going somewhere that you will be very active, and you're not fit, start thinking about walking or working out before you go so you won't be sore and exhausted.
  • Pack a paper face mask so that, if you do end up sitting next to someone on the plane who has a cough, or a cold, you can wear it.
  • Wash your hands often while you travel, as you will be touching a lot of surfaces that have been touched by hundreds of people from a dozen different destinations.

Bon voyage!


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