Vomiting, diarrhea and a trip to the hospital were probably not on your itinerary. But Canadians heading to warm vacation destinations to escape the frigid winter can risk serious illness if they don’t take the proper precautions.
As Global News has reported, several Canadians say they became sick at a resort in Cuba promoted and operated by Toronto-based Sunwing Vacations.
An Alberta couple who spent a week at the Memories Paraiso Azul Beach Hotel in Cayo Santa Maria said they became violently ill. They attribute their illness to improper food handling and preparation.
Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of the upcoming book The Germ Files, says Canadians travelling to countries with different food preparation and agricultural practices risk exposure to pathogenic viruses and bacteria such as salmonella or norovirus.
Here are four ways to lower that risk:
Avoid anything raw
The eat-your-veggies mantra doesn’t apply if you’re leery of food safety, Tetro says.
“Avoid anything raw, unless it’s peeled” when dining out, he said.
That means most fruits and salads are off the menu unless they come with a protective peel.
“Bacteria and viruses really only stay on the surface of fruits and vegetables,” he said. “If you can peel it then you can remove the majority of the microbial load to minimize the chance for infection.”
Eat meat that’s well done.
Cooking meat removes most of its harmful pathogens – but you have to cook it properly.
“Thankfully we cook meat. It should be cooked to 71 C, but since you can’t see what the temperature is [in a restaurant] it should be at least medium-well to well-done,” Tetro said.
Drink from the bottle, skip the ice
You’ve probably heard this one before. But if you’re leery of a country’s water treatment practices, stick to bottled water and avoid ice cubes.
“Make sure it’s bottled and has not been opened before. Some places have had reports of resorts just refilling empty bottles,” Tetro said.
Some resorts or hotels have their own water treatment facilities. Tetro says a simple smell test will let you know if the water has been treated.
“Run the water from the tap in your hotel room. If you can smell chlorine then it’s been treated,” he said, adding that it’s safe to drink or brush your teeth with.
Check alerts before you travel
The mosquito-borne Zika virus has prompted the Public Health Agency of Canada to put out a travel advisory warning pregnant women to consider postponing travel plans to a number of countries in Central and South America, as well as in Mexico.
The chikungunya virus prompted similar travel warnings last year.
Public health websites can tell you what to watch out for and what vaccines to get before you travel, Tetro said. The International Association for Medical Assistance is also a “fantastic” resource for medical advice, Tetro said.
“If you’re traveling to the [Caribbean or South America] you’re going to want your Hep A and Hep B vaccine,” he said. “And stay up to date on your usual vaccines like tetanus.”
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