We're travelling to Mexico. What health precautions should we take?

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The question

My family is going to Mexico for March Break (two teenagers and two parents). What health precautions should we take?

The answer

It’s good that you’re thinking ahead as getting sick can put a damper on your family vacation. While it’s best to review your health needs about four to six weeks prior to leaving (to allow for enough time to prepare and get any required vaccinations), there are still many last-minute considerations. By observing the following seven steps, you can help ensure a safe and healthy trip:

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Update your vaccines

Depending on where you are travelling in Mexico, you may be at risk for different infectious diseases.

If you are going on a resort vacation, consider these vaccines: hepatitis A, hepatitis B and Dukoral, which helps to prevent traveller’s diarrhea caused by E. coli and cholera. Also ensure that the status for your measles, mumps, rubella and tetanus shots are up to date.

If you are doing more of an adventure vacation and going to remote areas, you still should look at getting the above vaccines but also consider a visit to a travel clinic to ensure that you are covered against other vaccine-preventable illnesses.

Make sure your food and water is safe

You should only drink bottled or distilled water since diseases from food and water are the leading cause of illness in travellers. While most resorts in Mexico will have distilled water that should be safe, be sure to ask when you arrive. Beware of hidden sources of contaminated water such as ice cubes.

Make sure you eat food that is fully cooked and use caution with dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized. For fresh fruit and vegetables, eat those you can peel and avoid the skins.

Be sure to wash your hands often and carry an alcohol-based hand gel (at least 60-per-cent alcohol) for those soapless moments.

Protect yourself from bug bites

Malaria is present in certain areas of Mexico (Chiapas and more rural areas), so if you are travelling to a high-risk area, decrease your risk by covering up with long sleeves and pants, use insect repellent with at least 30-per-cent DEET and sleep under a net. If there is a malaria concern, I would recommend packing anti-malaria medications, which you can get from your doctor or travel clinic.

Pack a small first aid kit

Minor cuts, scrapes, skin infections and diarrhea are common while on a trip, so bring some supplies. Consider including bandages, antibiotic ointment, pain killers such as Tylenol or Advil, anti-diarrheals and something for nausea.

Sleep and eat well

It may be hard to maintain your regular schedule but eating well, staying hydrated and getting good rest will help combat jetlag, keep your immune system strong and help you stay healthy.

Take precautions with sun exposure

Choose sunblock with at least SPF 15 and avoid prolonged sun exposure to protect yourself against burns. And as the label says, reapply often, especially if you’re outside for long periods of time, exercising or in the water.

Careful driving

Car crashes are the leading cause of injury for travellers. Protect yourself against accidents by wearing your seat belt. Follow local traffic laws and avoid night driving. If you’re biking or hopping on a moped, wear a helmet. For peace of mind and to help save against potential hefty fees, consider getting travel health insurance, which will cover you for injuries or illnesses while away.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at doctor@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

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