Health Hazards of Travel

hummingbirdsOne of the concerns for folks that travel regularly, is health.  I know it is for me.  I’d like to think I could travel anywhere in the world without a thought of getting sick or injured.  Unfortunately, that would be naive on my part.

What I can do is prepare and educate myself on potential health hazards for a given country or region I plan on visiting.  For instance, its common knowledge we American’s can’t seem to handle the water in Mexico.  Thus, to avoid Montezuma’s revenge, most American’s stick to bottled water, soda, or alcohol when visiting Mexico.  I’m sure the same can be said for Mexicans visiting America.  It’s all about what our bodies are used to.birds of preyIf I were to visit certain foreign countries, I’d probably undergo a slew of shots in an attempt to protect myself from hepatitis, typhoid fever, meningitis, or any other serious medical conditions which might be considered rare in the United States.

mountain wildflowersI remember during my airline days when I would frequent tropical paradises like Hawaii and St. Thomas.  The first five days were always sheer joy and tons of fun.  As the week progressed, I’d be overcome with an unease or even an ill feeling; almost a sense of claustrophobia.  Toward the end of my stay, I couldn’t wait to board that plane for the mainland.  Come to find out, there’s actually a condition called “rock fever”.  Ok, this isn’t anything serious other than a mild phobia, but it did enlighten me. You won’t find me moving to a tropical island anytime soon.  I’ll opt for miles and miles of endless roads any day.

Since I enjoyed plenty of international travels when I was younger, I have no plans to travel outside of North America.  As a full-time RV’er traversing my homeland, what health concerns could I possibly have?  Surprisingly, more than one might think.

prairie dogsLet’s talk about those adorable Prairie Dogs found in the western United States.

I love watching these little guys pop up and then down …. in and out of their mounded burrow.  And their little defensive squawking barks accompanied by the flipping tail is quite entertaining.

I’ve found myself more than once hanging around a prairie dog colony being entertained by their cute antics and trying to capture them on film (film sounds so much better than media card ).  These delightful little rodents can be quick and captivate the attention of not only us two-legged creatures but also our four-legged family members.  I’ve seen many a blogger post about doggie sticking his head in a prairie dog hole or trying to chase these furry rodents.  It’s all I can do not scream at the computer, “NO”!hummingbird

Prairie dogs are known plague carriers.  Yes, you heard me right, Bubonic plague still exists in the United States and is usually contracted from fleas living in the fur of prairie dogs.  These fleas are easily passed on to our pooches, compromising everyone’s health.  Recently near Fort Collins, Colorado, a teenage boy passed away from contracting a rare case of Septicemic plague contracted from prairie dog fleas.

So if you’ve recently been near a prairie dog village and develop flu-like symptoms, it would be wise to seek medical attention immediately.Falcon

There was a time when contracting Lyme disease from deer ticks was an exclusive worry to those living in America’s northeast part of the country.  Although it’s still a huge problem in New England, the disease can be contracted from any infected tick throughout the United States.

BroncoLyme disease is a serious bacterial disease with debilitating consequences.  Thus, a tick bite should never be taken lightly and should even be followed up with immediate medical attention.  You can read about singer – songwriter Avril Lavigne’s Lyme disease journey and struggles here.

Valley Fever?  I don’t know about you, but I never heard the term Valley Fever until we started traveling regularly to Arizona.  Every now and then we would encounter someone informing us they needed to visit a friend in the hospital who was suffering from Valley Fever.

Since we spend our winters in Arizona, I was quick to educate myself on the signs and symptoms of Valley Fever and the fungal spore behind the illness.  Some folks grow up in Phoenix and never ingest a spore while others may visit for a few days and return home with these nasty guys imbedded their lungs.Canadian GeeseThe spores causing Valley Fever live in the dirt of the arid desert southwest and become airborne during windstorms, construction, four-wheeling, or even gardening.  Once airborne the spore can be inhaled – ingested and imbedded in the lining of the lungs.  Depending on the number of spores ingested and the overall health of a person, determines the severity of the symptoms and illness.  Some folks never know they have Valley Fever while others are hospitalized.  It can be fatal.

RobinYou can read more about it here, but there’s one huge fact to understand about Valley Fever especially for travelers.  After returning home, weeks later a person might develop a nagging cough.  The fungal spores on a lung X-ray can mimic cancer and lead to a misdiagnosis. Doctors outside of an arid climate might not be familiar with Valley Fever.

So before jumping to the Big C conclusion, a doctor might need to be informed by the patient that further testing would be prudent to rule out Valley Fever.  Thus, it’s important for anyone traveling to the southwest section of the United States, to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Valley Fever.

ButterfliesAnd last but not least, there’s West Nile.  No one likes being bit by an irritating mosquito.  The itchy welts are bad enough, but now, after being bit, I have to be concerned about contracting the West Nile virus!

So there you have some of “my” health concerns while traveling around the country in our RV; plague, Lyme disease, Valley Fever, and West Nile.  I’m sure my friend Mona Liza would add chiggers to this list.  You can read about her chigger attack here and make sure you don’t meet a similar fate.

Is there a disease or bug where you live that is of particular concern?  Have you ever traveled someplace and been exposed to an unusual health risk?  Feel free to enlighten us in the comments 🙂

Blue Jay

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor or a nurse.  This post is merely meant as entertainment.  It is meant to enlighten and provoke awareness of geographical health concerns and nothing more.

1001 Natural Remedies (DK Natural Health)
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95 thoughts on “Health Hazards of Travel

  1. Good read! I suppose there just isn’t a perfect place to live, there seems to be some health hazard everywhere. I’ve been in AZ for 25 years… so far so good! A bit concerned about the Prairie Dog issues you spoke of, I have a ton of them at our place. Yikes! Hey, I like the new look!

  2. Thank you Ingrid for a very enlightening post. I knew prairie dogs were notorious for carrying rabies but had no idea they were carriers of the plague as well. Also, I had heard of Valley Fever but had no idea what caused it or what the symptoms were so I’m appreciative of the info you provided. I believe I’ll save this blog post for future reference. Hopefully I’ll never need to refer to it.

    • You welcome Gayle. It’s good info to know especially as we travel. Some illnesses/diseases are only found in certain parts of the country thus doctors in an opposite location may not know what to look for 🙂

  3. Your new website is amazing as are your photos!! Thanks for all of the information. Do you have a sense of how you picked up VF?
    Thanks for sharing:-)

    • Thank you… I appreciate the nice comment. In April and the first half of May, we were helping our son do a major remodel on his home in Phoenix. He had purchased a house that had been vacant for a year and a half. Son and I did yard work, ripped out carpet, swept garage while hubby was hanging new light fixtures and working in other parts of the home. My son came down with VF about 2 weeks ahead of me. So we’re pretty sure we contracted the illness as we were working on something together. That’s the guess anyway.

  4. Love all the beautiful nature shots and thanks for the great warnings about dangers to health while travelling. Even though we don’t “officially” have Lyme disease there are increasing reports that people have been contracting a version of it. We have a few diseases from mosquitoes as well and there are plenty of venomous or posionous creatures about too. It’s easy to get complacent sometimes though.

    • Thank you and I did not know there might be a different version of Lyme. Good to know. Ah, yes those poisonous creatures need to be contended with as well. When my daughter was preparing to spend a semester studying in Sydney, she learned a great deal about spiders, snakes, etc. to be aware of in Australia…. info that was good to be aware of 🙂

  5. What an interesting post! You did a really good job detailing health problems while traveling. Our work is researching these diseases, so we are quite familiar with them. And Richard knows ALL about chiggars. We had to find a walk-in clinic when we visited Texas because the bites were so bad.

    • Thank you Pam. Fortunately I’ve never encountered chiggers, nor do I hope to LOL…. sounds horrible. Nice to know there are folks out there like yourself researching these diseases to help enlighten the rest of us 🙂

  6. Thanks for this post, Ingrid. We have an eerie lack of critters up here on the Leelanau Penninsula, probably due to the constant spraying of the surrounding orchards. That’s an entirely different post! 🙂


  7. Great post! We did think about health issue but never considered Prarie Dogs as plague carriers. We did plan ahead for our furry kids. Our vet at home is wonderful and spent a lot of time with us planning for their shots and discussing flea and tick issues. One of our worries was bringing them into the RV. The vet recommended a pill called Bravecta. Both dogs get a treatment once every three months and if ever bitten by a flea or tick the little bugger will die quickly. We also use some topical repellents. Sherry likes to use essential oils such as rose geranium and eucalyptus for us as well as the dogs. A little on their collars or our hiking shoes and socks seem to have been pretty effective. Thoug, in complete honesty, while in Wall we used Deet and some other heavy duty stuff. Those Mosquitos were huge!

    • I like the idea of using alternative bug repellents but in some situations Deet is the only thing that’ll work. Sounds like you have a good handle on dealing with the pups and your travels 🙂

  8. I try to not think about all of the things that can “get” me — otherwise I’m afraid I wouldn’t leave the house (or trailer)! 🙂 But seriously, I do think it’s wise to be aware, and to take precautions to avoid the bad stuff as much as possible. Hence, we wear long pants and don’t hike in tall grasses in tick country, stay away from rodent droppings, etc. (p.s. Your new blog theme looks great!)

    • Thank you Laurel. I was getting bored with the old look of the blog and thought I’d change things up a bit, but I’m still getting used to it. I have a tendency to wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt most of the time when hiking, but do it more for sun exposure.
      Since I normally add a product or two at the end of a post that I use or plan to use that somehow relates to the post, I thought your book might be appropriate. Plus I can’t express enough how appreciative I am for all your helpful info in your email. Thank you again 🙂

  9. Ingrid — Excellent info and (as always!) FABULOUS photos! I need to take the “How to Capture Great Bird Photos” class from you 😉 I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been battling Valley Fever. I hope your symptoms subside soon!

    We’ve been fortunate in our six-plus years of full-timing…. none of the things you’ve mentioned have afflicted us. We have worse luck with food poisoning (bad restaurant food — four times). We frequently buy local honey and it’s helped a lot with allergies.

    We also try to pay attention to poisonous plants because we hike a lot too. We quit a hike in Alaska where we saw a footpath narrow between cow parsnip plants — which can be toxic. (Here’s a write-up on it from awhile back in the Anchorage paper: I’ve since seen some articles saying this plant is often confused with others and isn’t harmful, but why take the chance, and I’m more apt to believe the locals when it comes to identifying what can hurt you.

    But then, poisonous plants would be an entirely new post, wouldn’t it?!? Ikes! Such a scary world!

    • Interesting plant info Ellen. Last summer here in CO I was photographing the heck out of this plant (at least I think it’s the same). I was intrigued by the pretty white flower/cluster, but I never touched it. Food poisoning is always a scary thought especially with only one bathroom in the RV and campground restrooms sometimes a hefty walk away. Not a pretty scenario.

      Last year I was bedridden with the flu which took months to recover from and left me with some other issues to contend with and just when I was enjoying a few months of good health this VF spore hit me. Fortunately, it’s an extremely mild case but will take a lot of relaxing and time to battle. Thank goodness for beautiful state parks and lovely scenery. I see a lot of lounging around camp reading in my future 🙂

  10. Wonderful photos…especially love the Hawk (that IS what it was, right?)..We encountered Fire Ants in Texas and also in Florida..If anyone is allergic to bee stings, they will also be allergic to Fire Ants and need to take an Epi Pen along…Although neither one of us is allergic we both have been bitten by them and you can run a low grade fever and feel awful for a couple days if you have several bites, not to mention the itching followed by a raised sore filled with pus..NASTY BUGGERS!!!

    • You know, I think one might be an osprey and the other a falcon??? I call them all “pretty birds”. My mom had a very nasty encounter with fire ants in TX. Her foot swelled so badly she couldn’t wear shoes and she had at least two doctor visits. You are so right, they are nasty buggers indeed.

  11. We pretty much live with prairie dogs all around, even in town. Seems like every vacant lot these days has prairie dogs living there. They are cute, for sure. But, we also know they are to be avoided. We were not fans when one of the state parks near us relocated a colony of them right next to the RV sites either, but so far, all has gone ok. We just keep a good distance away from them, especially when we have the dogs out for a walk. We’ve also been battling mosquitoes like ninja warriors this summer after all the rain! Haven’t even been able to dine out in the backyard so far, and after almost six more inches of rain this week, I’m sure we will get yet another round of the little suckers. Ugh. Very good post and good for RV and other campers to always keep in mind. 😉

    • I figured you’d be very aware of this living in TX. When we lived in Southern CO we had Prairie Dog colonies all over the place. We lived one block off the state park property and would walk regularly in the park right past the cute little guys. Hubby and I got to the point where we wouldn’t take the dog on those walks because the trail went right through the colony. Any signs of flu would’ve sent us to the Dr. as a precaution since we were aware of the possibilities of plague. The knowledge didn’t stop us, but it was something to keep in the back of our minds. Knowledge is power 🙂

  12. First off, congrats to your new theme! your photos just popped on the spread.
    Secondly, your bird photography is seriously top notched.
    Third, thanks for the mention, and yup to this day Chiggers are always on my mind especially at the Tallgrass Prarie.
    Lastly, these are great reminders now that we are well into summer and spends most of our time outdoors.
    Great post, Ingrid.

    • Thank you ML. Every time I read your post on those chiggers, I get goose bumps and hope to NEVER encounter them personally. We’ll be heading into tick and mosquito country in August and I’m already not looking forward to it. I’ll stay out of the grass and woods 😆

  13. Ingrid, thanks for these reminders. I had no idea prairie dogs carried the plague until you pointed it out after our visit to a prairie dog town in Texas. Love your blog’s new theme!

    • Thank you Beth. I was having issues with the previous theme. At first I thought it was my computer, but now that I changed it, it’s not acting up. It’ll take some getting used to on my part.
      As cute as those prairie dogs are, we do need to be aware of a down side 🙂

  14. Thanks for the heads up – I would have never though about the plague. Prior to our trip, I’ve had the RV and me both serviced and discovered I had some issues that needed to be handled. I sure don’t want to be sick while on the road and these should all be fine by departure date.

    • Love it – the RV AND YOU serviced LOL. I can attest to the fact that it is no fun being sick on the road. Wishing you a great trip 🙂

  15. Oh my, Ingrid, you sure wrote a valuable post – and with the most amazing photos! I was actually wondering what you were up too since you were writing the top 5 Colorado towns….so sorry to hear this. We also wrote a little blog about being sick on the road….so far, we have been comfy in our home on wheels for our few rounds of flu.
    I always said there were 2 things that would take me off the road, my knees if I couldn’t handle the steps in and out (my knees seemed to have miraculously healed from all the hiking and healthy lifestyle-plus three years of ortho visc injections) or bugs. Surprisingly, the bugs haven’t been too bad until this campground. I never had a tick until Blackwater River State Park this March….Bill always gets ticks and had the good ol’ bulls eye from one this past year. But now, ticks love me with 8 of them attaching to me while at Suwannee River State Park this past May! I seem to be getting all kinds of bites now, but hate wearing bug repellant. Of course, we now do use Tick spray on our hikes into the mountains…
    I’m going to check the CDC sight from now on thanks to one of your commenters!
    Praying for a speedy and full recovery!

    • Last year I encountered a severe case of the flu that had me bedridden for a week and took four months to totally recover from. The second half of the year, I was feeling so great and hubby and I were starting to get in some serious hikes and then VF hit. Fortunately as far as severity, I have a mild case, but the coughing and fatigue are getting real old, real fast. On the bright side, this too shall pass.
      We’re heading to WI in August and I will be vigilant in keeping an eye out for ticks. Glad you guys have survived the bugs!

  16. Ingrid I think this is a very valuable post. Having just come back form Peru and Ecuador and having left with my ‘slew of shots’, one doesn’t think so much about the dangers of illness in traveling at home. I had no idea about the prairie dog issue and I’m a nurse! Thanks for the helpful information.

    • I was thinking of you as I was formulating this post. (could you feel those telepathic vibes?) I thought you probably received a few shots prior to your adventure. Probably not as many as if you were going to Africa, but a few none the less.
      I know, who thinks of plague in North America? Lots to think about when traveling 🙂

      • I think I was feeling those vibes actually. Again a very helpful post. Another helpful tip while telling readers to keep their faces away from prairie dogs would be to keep their cameras away from bears. The things we see tourists doing is enough to make me think folks don’t have half a wit in their noggin.

    • Arizona does seem to be pretty popular with the Canadians and yes it would be good if they understand Valley Fever. Most likely, the Dr’s in Canada won’t be well versed on the signs and symptoms of the disease. Never hurts to be proactive 🙂

  17. Lyme disease is a horrible disease to have, my girlfriend has it it has left her so sick and unable to work or do most normal things we all take for granted! She lives with constant migraines and feels like she is always in a fog. Everyone must be diligent when it comes to our health.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. I’ve learned a great deal about Lyme’s debilitating effects via blogs…. very sad. Yes, it is important to be diligent and aware. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  18. Informative indeed! Never knew about prairie dogs! Good to know.
    I had a friend almost die from west nile. He was in the hospital for a month.
    And Valley Fever is scary stuff. I sometimes wear a bandana around my nose and mouth when digging for beautiful gems and minerals in Arizona. We all need to remember it’s the Wild, Wild West still!!

    • Smart move wearing the bandana. Hmm, I might need to go digging with you this winter and learn what gems to look for. And yes indeed…. it is still the Wild, wild west and that’s why we love it 🙂

  19. We have had several brushes with “travel bugs”. Hubby dearest developed the classic Missouri Lyme-like disease rash in April this year after a tick bite. Although Lyme-like disease has no known long term side effects a round of antibiotics is recommended after that anyway. In southern BC in the Osoyoos area in May 2014, I got bit by a blow fly and ended up removing a squirming 3mm larvae from a neck wound (EW!). I had another fly deposit an egg inside my ear in November 2014 in Florida which hatched but then died because, fortunately for me, it was a bug that only eats dead flesh and it starved. Funny small white lump that lasts for week, get it checked! One of my dogs got bit by a rattlesnake in Florida in Jan 2012. Fortunately for him, the snake chose not to envenomate and he recovered after five days of being horribly ill. My cat actually had to go through a full six week treatment of antibiotics after he developed symptoms of Lyme disease in the summer of 2010 and he tested positive using the antibody test. He picked up ticks in the Boston area and by the time I found them they were engorged. he also developed an unusual reaction to a tape worm infestation after getting out and eating baby squirrel in Florida. He had open weeping sores on his lower jaw. Antibiotics and deworming fixed it. Hubby dearest and I and our daughter, then 6, developed mountain sickness on our trip to Telluride Colorado in 1993. CDC has a wonderful bunch of bulletins with clear pictures of tick diseases, critters, rashes, and such and other things of interest. Every state I have visited has bulletins about things to watch out for. In every case we were all fine mostly because of that kind of information and some timely medical intervention. Great post!

  20. Ingrid, you clearly have spent more time thinking about this than I have! As someone who has had a strong immune system all his life I rarely think about disease even though the last two years I have gotten walloped with bad cases of the flu. Perhaps my immune system is changing or I’m just getting older.
    Thanks for the reminders, and as one of those who has gone on about Prairie Dogs, may I submit my sincere apologies. 🙂
    On the serious side, I think we do well to consider things like our susceptibility to disease in choosing our retirement lifestyle. Not everyone is suited to RV’ing and the changes and hazards it presents, but only the individual knows their own health — and some of us don’t pay much attention to whether we should or shouldn’t be doing something — making self knowledge not that easy to find.
    Thanks, and get well soon.

    • I normally would not think too deeply about the health concerns of travel either, but I’ve encounter my fair share of issues the past couple of years and realize I may not have the strong immune system to ward off some of these things. And you are so right, the RVing lifestyle is not for everyone 🙂

    • Thanks, I felt I needed to add some uplifting photos to compensate for the not so fun subject.
      I usually just visit an Urgent Care and it’s always an ordeal as they are limited in providing care. While traveling, it’s crucial to be proactive and responsible for one’s own health. Thank goodness for the internet and all the helpful tools.

      • Even at home, I’m proactive. My issues are fewer than before, however I’ve had to tell my doctors of past what the problem is or they wouldn’t have figured it out.
        Thanks for answering! 😃

  21. These photos are remarkable, Ingrid! Thank you for sharing the travel health info. When we travel, we make sure to eat orange for V-C and Greek yogurt.

  22. It is a scary world out there. We think one of our friends got valley fever two years ago. He was pretty damn sick and we had to take him to the Parker hospital. (not the best hospital) I guess we all can’t live in a bubble though, just be careful and hope for the best.

    • Well, unfortunately I’m battling Valley Fever – a very mild case, but it’s kept me down. I have good days and bad and the coughing is driving me crazy, but the upside; supposedly one builds up an immunity. So hopefully this is a once in a lifetime thing.

  23. I too love the hawk “caught on film!” Having had Jerry spot a bulls eye on his buttock when we first started out journey, we learned quickly to seek medical attention. He was lucky. Pigeons and bats can cause havoc too. Had a coworker come down with Histoplasmosis from being in an area with massive droppins and over a year before her cough subsided. Great post, as I learned a lot. Hope you’re not still under the weather and gaining back your strength.

    • Thanks C. As much as I’ve wanted to see the bats in places like Carlsbad Caverns or in TX, I think I’ll take a pass. I’m afraid I may be fighting the Valley Fever cough for several more months…. grrrr! It is good to be aware of different health concerns. What was the bulls eyes caused from?

      • Oh no, you have Valley Fever?! Gheez…I’m so sorry, somehow I missed knowing that. Bulls eye from a tick bite…Lyme’s. Antibiotic fixed him up…just glad we saw it and knew what to look for. Hope you heal faster than expected and glad you in familiar territory, close to family especially.

        • Glad hubby got on the antibiotics right away to avoid possible Lyme. Oh, you didn’t miss a mention on me and VF, just in a couple of my comments. I didn’t really want to put it out there, but it has effected our travels and activities. We’ll still head to IL to visit my dad but we’ll cancel the August UP travels. Such is life!

  24. My parents taught me not to go near feces, dead animals, pick up bird feathers, etc. when growing up. I have been in Cali and campgrounds have been closed due to squirrels having the plague. Also, I always check for ticks and insect bites if I have been outside and shower too. I always carry a first aid kit and plenty of water with me to wash hands, feet, eyes, etc. Good to be aware!

    Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

    • Very good advice Renee. So squirrels can carry plague too? I guess that makes sense since the fleas aren’t partial. After hiking, especially in weeds, grass, or trees we always check our bodies for bites. Good habit.

  25. Putting out the word about Valley Fever is important. I only learned of it while visiting a physician for poison ivy in California. I was glad that he gave me literature on the illness and symptoms. I didn’t know about the prairie dogs! Glad you shared. Your photos are beautiful. You did a great job capturing the birds in flight:)

    I do hope you are feeling much, much better as you write this:)

    • Thanks Pam. I never knew I’d enjoy bird photography so much. I think a return visit to Tucson’s Desert Sonoran museum this winter may be on my schedule. I’m still fighting a very frustrating cough and probably will for a few months. Just when I was getting back into hiking shape, this strikes…. grrrrr! Oh well, little by little I’ll regain my stride 🙂

  26. Interesting subject, Ingrid, but I could barely stop to read as I was racing thru the copy to see the stunning photos. You have really outdone yourself. The hawks are spectacular.

    You are right about Valley Fever. My sister contracted it, and it ultimately destroyed one of her lungs. Hiking, or other strenuous activity is beyond her ability. Pets, or at least dogs are also susceptible to Valley Fever, as a friend sadly discovered. Once you and your pet leave the Southwest, it’s difficult to find a vet who might be familiar with VF, and be able to recognize and treat it.

    But, back to those photos…..fantastic!

    • Awe, thank you Judy. I’ve really been practicing with my camera settings, but it always helps when the birds are accommodating and hold still 😉 So sorry to hear about your sister. VF can be debilitating based on the severity of the case and you’re right about Dr’s and Vet’s outside of the SW not being familiar with the disease.
      I’m off – birds are calling…. 🙂

    • You welcome. I know how serious Lyme is in New England. It’s also a huge concern in Wisconsin and we plan on heading there in August. I’ll be vigilant about keeping an eye out for the blood thirsty suckers.

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