Health Away from Home

Don't Leave Home Without It

By Caroline Grannan


Packing for a trip is demanding even without contemplating the supplies needed for every possible medical emergency. The worrywart's worst fears can be fueled by a book such as Dr. William Forgey's comprehensive "Wilderness Medicine: Beyond First Aid" (Globe Pequot Press, $14.95), with its guides for equipping the NonRx Field Surgical Module and the Rx Injectable Medication Module.

Essential First Aid

      But Dr. Forgey's advice is aimed at backcountry travelers, from short-haul hikers to those on Everest expeditions. Most travelers can leave the hemostats and No. 11 scalpel blades at home, and just pack some common-sense items.
      Some of those items require early attention. Refill prescriptions well in advance so you have enough for the trip. If you have a specific medical condition, consult your doctor about what to carry and other travel-related issues. Also, be sure to wear a Medic Alert bracelet if your condition warrants it. Asthmatics already know to carry their inhalers, and people with allergies -- such as nut allergies or bee stings -- that can lead to anaphylactic shock should never be far from their EpiPen kits or other epinephrine systems.

      Something to think about even earlier is establishing a relationship with a primary-care physician. That's easy to neglect, especially for younger, healthier travelers who get their medical care from one of the more impersonal health maintenance organizations, but it can help in getting medications you may need.
      Traveling with prophylactic ("just in case") prescription drugs -- such as the anti-diarrhea drug Lomotil -- is often recommended. But if you don't have doctors in the family, you're going to need a physician who knows and trusts you in order to get the drugs. "I carry a painkiller like Tylenol with codeine," says Dr. Gerald Levine, a San Francisco physician and avid traveler. But Dr. Levine acknowledges that not everyone can get (or tolerate) codeine -- in which case he suggests ibuprofen.
      There are other suggestions, as well. "It's a delicate subject, but hemorrhoidal creams are always a good idea if you're taking a long trip -- even if you've never had hemorrhoids before," Dr. Levine suggests.
      For travel to places with dubious sanitation, daily Pepto-Bismol is sometimes recommended to prevent traveler's diarrhea. This means carrying a lot: one 8-ounce bottle a day or eight 262-mg tablets a day, according to "Medicine for the Outdoors," by Dr. Paul S. Auerbach (Lyons Press, $22.50).
      If recommended by your physician, you may pack an antibiotic, especially if you're traveling in the less-developed world. Follow your doctor's advice closely.
      A note for those visiting developing nations: Travelers to some parts of Africa and South America must carry an International Certificate of Vaccination for yellow fever. Travelers can list other vaccinations besides yellow fever in another section of the International Certificate of Vaccination, although it's voluntary. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains worldwide information on its travel page, along with information on required and recommended vaccinations.


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