Travel-Related Illness: Taking Revenge on Montezuma's Revenge

WebMD Live Events Transcript

You have a great trip planned, but do you know what travel-related illnesses you might face and how they may be prevented? Before Montezuma takes his revenge on you, read what travel medicine expert Herbert L. DuPont, MD had to say about the latest prevention tips and treatment options. He joined us on July 15, 2004.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. DuPont. Is any vacation, no matter how close to home, worth planning with potential illness in mind?

The issue is two things, really: How safe is the environment where a traveler going? Are talking about going to Portland or Wisconsin or Africa? The other major issue is whether the person is young and totally healthy. If they have medical problems then this too is a red flag to do special planning.

When traveling in the U.S. are here any special precautions a relatively healthy person needs to take?

Traveling within the US is totally safe for individuals if they're healthy. My only concern would be to advise the person who takes medication that it's important they have at least two different supplies of the medication in case one of their suitcases is lost. Other than that, I think travel within the US is done very safely.

And what about travel to our neighbor, Mexico?

Well, there are 17 million people who do that every year, and unfortunately there's a big problem! 40 percent of these people get traveler's diarrhea and it can wreck a trip. Being careful what one eats and drinks and being prepared for illness if it occurs are the keys.

There are other issues we could talk about. One of the things that's important is that non-seasoned travelers from the U.S. go to Mexico. They don't go to Katmandu or to Cairo, but they go to Mexico. That's problem number one. The other thing about travel to a developing place like Mexico is the regard for public safety that we are accustomed to in the U.S. is missing. There won't be guardrails, there will be huge holes in the sidewalk, wires stretched between buildings at eye level, cars drive too fast, and when you cross the street it's a challenge. Sometimes it even appears the cars are aiming at people. So the first thing I say to people is exercise extreme caution, because accidents continue to be the most serious problems we see in travelers.

There are some other medical problems in Mexico. Many of the cities are at high altitude and travelers from lower altitudes can have symptoms that include lightheadedness, tiredness, muscle aches and pains, and increased intestinal gas at the higher altitudes. Another problem is, surprisingly, constipation. The roughage in the diet in Mexico and many other countries is lacking. People don't drink as much fluids as usual, and the net result is constipation. I think these are the major problems in a country like Mexico for a traveler.

"I've made it a habit of going to pharmacies around the world and asking them how they would treat common problems and I haven't been very impressed with the quality of their advice as a whole."

When I was in Mexico last year I wasn't feeling well and went to the drugstore there to get some over the counter medicine. Is it as safe as what I would have bought here?

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