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Travel and vacations can wreak havoc on people’s health, but knowing how to prepare and what to do while traveling can help keep illnesses at bay.

You can book hotels, buy tickets and pack suitcases for a trip, but without the proper precautions, an illness or health problem can spoil the perfect summer vacation.

“Usually when you are on vacation, you are spending more time with other people and that’s going to increase your risk for catching anything, such as a virus, just because you are in an enclosed space with multiple other people,” says Dr. Cynthia Brownfield with Mosaic Life Care.

Rushing to finish work or responsibilities before heading off on vacation, being in close proximity with other travelers and taking a break from a diet and exercise routine can wreak havoc on people’s health. Preparing for a trip, either domestic or international, and taking precautions while on the road can help prevent illnesses.

Dr. Brownfield recommends travelers get up to date on vaccinations before domestic and foreign trips and always pack basic medications and supplies, including pain relievers and sunscreen.

“Visit your doctor to make sure you have appropriate immunizations before going on vacation and find out if you need malaria prevention,” Dr. Brownfield says of international travel. “So many patients go off to foreign countries thinking they are prepared and they are not.”

Because many aspects of vacations, including airplanes and amusement parks, include people interacting in close quarters, she recommends people take precautions against germs. Airplane bathrooms, public drinking fountains, ATM buttons and hotel room remote controls all have been found to contain large amounts of germs in various studies.

“Make sure you wash your hands appropriately,” Dr. Brownfield says. “People get busy and then they are grabbing a bite to eat and don’t wash their hands. Take that moment to go wash your hands before you eat.”

Vacations often mean a diet full of fast food, which can cause digestive issues if not balanced with healthier options.

“If you eat an unhealthy breakfast, try to be a little healthier for your next meal,” Dr. Brownfield says. “Try to find that balance so you don’t come home and have a very unpleasant weigh in, and to make sure you don’t end up getting stomachache or diarrhea from eating too many rich foods that you aren’t used to.”

Regular exercise while on vacation also can help reduce jet lag and travel-related stress and keep the body in balance. Applying sunscreen every two hours while outdoors and getting adequate hydration also are important, Dr. Brownfield says. Alcohol, she says, is not a good option for hydration.

“A lot of times when you are taking a trip over the summer, you are going to some place with water. You don’t realize how dehydrated you can become because the water is cooling you off,” Dr. Brownfield says.

When traveling internationally, travelers can check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to learn about potential health and safety risks. Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Brownfield says, injuries are the most common cause of death abroad for tourists, not infections.

“You should know where to go if you do get injured. Be smart. Wear your seat belt. Don’t do anything crazy,” she says. “Accidents do remain the No. 1 cause of death in foreign travel among healthy Americans, far exceeding infections.”

Vacations are meant to be fun, and knowing the risks and taking the necessary health precautions can help ensure they stay that way for everyone.

“Stay hydrated. Wear sunscreen,” Dr. Brownfield says. “And don’t forget to wear your seat belt.”

Jena Sauber can be reached at jena.sauber@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPSauber.