Destination Directory

Bacteria, Parasites and Viruses ... Oh, My!

Souvenirs are great, unless you're among the 40 percent of travelers yearly who dive into a treasure trove of bacteria, parasites and viruses while traveling—and pick up an unwanted souvenir: an infectious disease.

Traveler's diarrhea ... Norovirus ... Dengue fever ... The list goes on. While you can get sick from traveling in any country, you and your group members are especially at risk when exploring developing countries. Yet that's no reason to stay within borders. Reduce the risk and stay healthy by following these tips.

Don't drink the water.
The infrastructure for clean water, effective sewage and public health in many developing countries is failing, insufficient or nonexistent. If possible, purchase bottled water for drinking—and check that all bottle caps are sealed. Dishonest vendors may sell tap water in bottles that are "sealed" with a drop of glue to mimic the factory seal.

If tap water is your only source—or if you want to limit the affect plastic bottles have on the environment (recycling isn't always an option)—pack iodine tablets or water purifiers that kill bacteria, cysts and viruses. Alternatively, pack a device that will boil water for you.

Also avoid any drinks made with tap water. That includes ice.

Protect your feet.
Parasites can enter the skin of your feet and travel to different parts of the body. Never walk barefoot in any area—including hotel rooms and showers. Use flip-flops when showering.

Beware of fruits, vegetables and condiments.
It's best to avoid fruits and vegetables that can't be peeled. Yet fruits and vegetables might be safe if you can peel them yourself, or wash them in safe water.

Also stay away from freshly-squeeze juice, platters of cut-up fruits or vegetables, salads and any condiments made from fruits and vegetable—there's no way to ensure they were prepared properly.

Use caution with roadside stands.
While the aroma might entice you, street vendors may not be held to the same hygiene standards as restaurants in developing countries. Unless the food is steaming hot when served, it's best to eat somewhere else.

What meat is this?
Ask the question before it's in your mouth. Not after.

Sure, eating new foods is part of the experience of traveling abroad. However, you really don't want the meat you eat to be a surprise. Bushmeat—local wild game typically not eaten in the United States, such as bats and rodents—can be a source of animal-origin diseases.

Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Groups Today.


Add comment

Security code

Recent Blogs

4 Ways to Dive Deep in Group Travel

Time to dive deep into group travel.


13 Things That Can Go Wrong on Group Tours

Anything that can go wrong on a group tour hopefully won't, but probably will ... at least once during your career.

Wine Tasting Code Words

My wife is one of the most polite people you could ever meet. Whether this is due to her upbringing, an aspect of her demeanor, or just her go-to behavior, she is polite to a fault. This materializes itself in often unexpected places: She lets the neighborhood kids have first go at the biggest, ripest blackberries that grow on our fence; she feels compelled to listen to the full pitch when eating the food samples at our local price club; she turns shades of blush if anyone in our party offers criticism of a winery's offerings in front of the person pouring. After all, if you don't have something nice to say ...