Unprepared travelers who hope to enjoy exotic locales often spend their days in a hotel bathroom instead. About 40% of all travelers experience some form of stomach upset from mild to debilitating diarrhea. For those with underlying kidney or heart problems, the dehydration from diarrhea can be life threatening.

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website (www.cdc.gov) to find out which countries have safe drinking water. They’re rated by risk—high, intermediate and low…

High risk: Africa, Mexico and Central America, South America, most of Asia and the Middle East, especially the rural areas. Hepatitis A is a concern in Russia.

Intermediate risk: South Africa, Eastern and Southern Europe.

Low risk: US, Canada, Japan, Northern Europe and Australia. To stay safe...

  • Drink bottled water, but inspect it first. In some countries, a container of bottled water costs $4 or more. Unscrupulous vendors may refill empties with tap water. Always check that the factory seal is intact. Buy carbonated water, if available—it's harder to fake.
  • Wipe bottles and cans dry before drinking. Bottled and canned beverages may be kept cold in tubs filled with ice water. Moisture on the outside may contain organisms that can get into your mouth when you drink. Of course, don't add ice cubes to beverages unless you are sure they are made from uncontaminated water.
  • Use bottled water for brushing teeth. Stand your toothbrush upright between uses so it isn't contaminated with water from the sink.
  • Drink bottled water on cruise ships and airplanes. Non-bottled water could be contaminated. Coffee and tea made with boiling water should be safe.
  • Sterilize your water. Two ways…
  • Boiling. Put the water in a clean pot, bring it to a rolling boil, then remove it from the heat and let it cool. Transfer to a sterilized container. Boiling is the most reliable way to kill most disease- causing organisms.
  • Use a water-filtration bottle. This can protect against bacteria, protozoa and lead. Some also filter viruses, including hepatitis A. Check the product label. Available at my website, www.passporthealthusa.com, or at any local passport office or camping supply store.

Cost: $20 to $100 or more.

  • Beware of swimming. Swimming in the ocean is usually safe-few bacteria and parasites can survive in salt water. But lakes and other bodies of freshwater can have high levels of contamination-and some organisms pass directly through the skin.

Showering and toweling off soon after swimming will assist in removing parasites before they have a chance to burrow through the skin. Wearing swimming shoes can protect you from parasites and puncture wounds.

Well-maintained, chemically treated swimming pools generally are safe.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in