Overseas Aid: Staying Healthy Abroad

Don't let falling ill abroad ruin your race - we've come to the rescue



by Roy Stevenson

overseas health, travel sick, triathlon

One of the great joys of triathlon is that it gives you the perfect excuse to travel all over the world to take part in races. But if you don't make plans and take precautions you can easily fall victim to sickness or injury and all your hard work will have been in vain.

Think about it: jet lag, disorientation, unfamiliar food, contaminated water and, perhaps, a little alcohol - travelling overseas to take part triathlons offers plenty of opportunity to fall ill. But we at TW are here to help: just tell us where it hurts.

Vaccines

Find out what vaccines you need in plenty of time before you travel. Here are just some of the nastiest diseases you can be exposed to: hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, rabies, meningitis, yellow fever, malaria, polio, tuberculosis, dengue fever, shigella, elephantiasis, smallpox, pneumonia. If your doctor says you need immunisations for any of these diseases, get your shots.

If you are in a developing country and feel unusually ill, consult a physician for diagnosis, advice and medication. Don't put this off, hoping your symptoms will resolve themselves. Hotels often have a physician on call, or staff can contact one for you.

Jet lag

Jet lag can flatten you: it usually manifests as shattering tiredness but it can also cause lack of energy and motivation, dehydration, interrupted sleep, digestion problems, disrupted bowel activity, headaches, irritability, irrational anger, loss of concentration, lack of alertness and disorientation - not what you want a few days before a triathlon.
You can adapt to your new time zone
by taking a few precautions before, during and after you travel.

Before you leave

Get up and go to bed earlier several days before travelling east (flying in this direction is harder on the body than going west because you feel that you're losing time), and get up and go to bed later for westward trips. Arrive at the airport refreshed and with plenty of time to spare.

On the plane


Set your watch to your destination time and eat and sleep according to that time. Drink plenty of water or fruit juice to prevent dehydration, which can worsen the effects of jet lag. For the same reason, avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.

On the ground


When you arrive, take a walk outdoors in the sun (without sunglasses) to help you reset your biological clock more quickly. Early morning walks are best for this. Do not overdo any exercise because at this stage you should be following a tapering programme as race-day approaches.

Blisters

If you develop a blister, drain the fluid with a sterile needle, wash the blistered area with warm, soapy water and apply an antiseptic cream. Cover with blister tape or a plaster.

Dehydration

Dehydration is common in travellers. If you're sightseeing it's easy to lose track of your water intake and if you're in a hot climate you'll be sweating even when you're doing nothing. Stay hydrated, and conserve your energy and glycogen stores by drinking fluids that contain electrolytes and natural sugars.

Diarrhoea

The trots. The runs. Call it what you will, this ailment, arising from bacterial contamination of food or water, will make your life a nightmare until your medication kicks in. Eat only at reputable, busy establishments and wash your hands or use an alcohol gel before each meal.

Stick to bottled water and other bottled drinks, canned fruit juices and carbonated soft drinks. It is safer to drink from the bottle or can, rather than a glass that may not have been washed properly. And never drink water from a bottle that you have not opened yourself. Do not use ice in your drinks and use bottled water when you brush your teeth.

Avoid raw fruits and vegetables unless they are peeled or cleaned. Eat off clean plates and use clean cutlery. Avoid unpasteurised dairy products - milk, soft cheese, yoghurt, ice cream and cream sauces.

Make sure all meat and seafood is well cooked (served steaming or piping hot) - stay away from raw shellfish.  

Treatment

There are a number of over-the-counter medicines that will stop your diarrhoea but you may need antibiotics to treat moderate to severe diarrhoea.

Rehydrate using oral- rehydration solution packets. See a doctor if symptoms persist for more than 72 hours, there is a fever, there is blood in the diarrhoea or, simply, if you feel you should.


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