Why Do I Always Get Sick After Traveling?
It seems like every time I fly, I come home with an unwanted souvenir—a cold, stomach bug, or sore throat. I’m usually pretty good about trying to stay healthy—I wipe down everything at my plane seat with anti-bacterial wipes and always wash or sanitize my hands before eating. So I asked the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) what gives—why do I always get sick after traveling?
Daphne Hendsebee, Communications and Marketing Specialist for IAMAT, explains that many people get sick after traveling. “There are many factors that make you more prone to illness when you travel,” she says. “You are out of your regular environment and you come into contact with different bacteria and viruses from those you are exposed to back home. You touch many surfaces covered in bacteria and viruses (door handles, tray tables in planes or trains, seats, railings, money, etc.). You may also be in contact with crowds of people while in transit and at your destination. Travel stress, fatigue, and jet lag can also have a big impact on your health.”
So what can you do to prevent getting sick after traveling? Hendsebee advises, “Take time to adjust to the new environment slowly, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and reduce your stress levels.”
If you do fall sick after returning home, you probably don’t need to see a doctor if it’s just a mild cold or upset stomach. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that travelers get medical help if any of the following applies:
“If you have been in a country with malaria and develop a fever within a month after you leave, see a doctor immediately. Most fevers are caused by less serious illnesses. But because malaria is a medical emergency, your doctor must first rule it out. A fever could still be symptoms of malaria even if you took antimalarial medicine because the medicine is not 100% effective. Most malaria develops within 30 days, but rare cases can lie dormant for a year or longer. So always tell your doctor about any travel you have done, even if it was months ago.”
“Most cases of diarrhea go away by themselves in a few days, but see your doctor if you have diarrhea that lasts for 2 weeks or more. Persistent diarrhea can make you lose nutrients and is often caused by a parasitic infection that will need to be treated with special drugs.”
“Skin problems (rashes, boils, fungal infections, bug bites) are among the most common illnesses reported by people who have returned from international travel. Most skin problems are not serious, but they may be a sign of a serious illness, especially if you also have a fever.”
If you do fall sick after returning home and need to visit a doctor, make sure you tell him or her about your recent travels. The CDC advises, “Make sure to include all relevant details:
- What you did on your trip.
- How long you were gone.
- Where you stayed (fancy hotel, native dwelling, tent).
- What you ate and drank while you were there.
- Whether you were bitten by bugs.
- Whether you swam in freshwater.
- Any other possible exposures (sex, tattoos, piercings).”
If you often catch yourself wondering “why does traveling make me sick,” remember to get lots of sleep, wash your hands, and use sanitizer—and hopefully, the only affliction you’ll return home with is wanderlust.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Travel Gadgets to Help You Sleep Away from Home
- 8 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Health While Traveling
- How to Stay Healthy While Traveling