Staying healthy in Japan

Features Health - September 10th, 1982

by Elyse M. Rogers

Staying healthy on the road

For most of us who live in Japan, travel is a big part of our lives, whether it be travel for business, vacation or home leave. Travel, although an enjoyable part of life, can quickly become stressful, particularly if things go wrong. And, as most seasoned travelers know only too well, things often do go amiss. It can be as insignificant an event as a late plane or a disaster such as lost baggage. Patience and a sense of humor are often as important as your passport.

One factor we often take for granted in travel is our good health. And it’s certainly important. Even the  smoothest trip isn’t up to par and with a serious illness, a travel adven­ture can become a horror. I wish I could tell you how to guarantee a healthy trip, but that’s not possible; however, there are some measures you can take before a trip that should help:

•  Avoid unnecessary stress before take-off.

Getting to Narita is a trip in itself, so allow enough time. On most international flights a two-hour-before-departure-time arrival is recommended, and you’d be smart to plan that into your schedule. It’s nice to start a trip with nor­mal blood pressure and a re­laxed smile.

•  Beware of pre-flight ex­haustion and/or hangovers.

Sayonara parties and bon voyage dinners are great, but don’t schedule them the night before you leave. Stepping on the plane while you’re tired and feeling queasy doesn’t do much to promote a good trip.

•  Plan for medical needs.

Take enough medication for the trip, and with any vital medications (such as blood-pressure pills) be sure to carry them with you. Then if your baggage is lost, you won’t have to worry.

•  Get any needed “shots” or travel protection.

Times have changed, and you’ll no longer need to get a series of immunizations for most travel. I talked to Dr. Ben Holder, corporate medical director for The Dow Chemi­cal Company, and he empha­sized that for most interna­tional travel no special shots are needed. The best course of action is to find out what might be recommended for the specific area you plan to visit. You can usually find this out from your travel agent. In addition, it’s not only the country you visit, but also the type of travel you plan. If you’re sticking to major cities and first-class hotels, you’ll rarely have a problem. How­ever, if you plan to wander off the beaten track you’d better find out what diseases you could contract.

Adequate planning prior to your trip is important, but it’s necessary that you be careful during your trip as well. Some common-sense tips for staying healthy once you’re “on the road” are as follows:

• Play it safe.

In uncertain areas, be cautious about food and water. Bottled water and drinks are safer than tap water. (Watch ice, too, since freezing does not destroy most germs.) In ques­tionable areas or restaurants, eat foods that are well cooked. Avoid raw shellfish unless you’re sure of its safety as it can carry cholera or hepatitis.

•  Avoid overeating and overdrinking.

Exotic dishes and new drinks are a fun part of any trip, but over-indulging can bring on indigestion    and diarrhea.

•  Get adequate rest.

Being an indefatigable tour­ist can be hard on the system. Traveling takes energy, so try to get enough sleep to keep your body at its best and all your defense systems in tune.

•  Use medicines with cau­tion.

Unless it’s a medication you need and have used before, go easy on “pill popping.” If you’ve been given some “in case” medications (as for diarrhea) use them only as your doctor directed.

Should you need emergency care while traveling, most hotel front desks can direct you to competent medical facilities. Out of the major cities, emergency care may be a problem, although many countries are addressing the problem of medical care for tourists, so care should con­tinue to improve.

I was surprised to learn that Saudi Arabia is now spending hundreds of millions of dollars on medical and health services during the annual tourist pil­grimage to Mecca. Still, if you’re not going to Saudi Arabia, or if you’re going the less-traveled areas, I’d be sure to find out what facilities are available, particularly if you’ve got a chronic medical problem.

If you’re like most of us, once you’re back in Tokyo with a bag of souvenirs and a bundle of memories, you’ll put any medical cares about traveling behind you. And that will usually be fine.

But if you should get sick a few. days or even several weeks after international trav­el, be sure to tell your doctor about your trip. Some diseases, such as malaria, don’t show up right away and your doctor may not even think to look for such diseases unless he knows of your recent travels.

With a little prior planning and some common sense during your travels you and your family can have a healthy time on the road as well as at home. Now if we could have as much control over the cost of travel…