Nobody plans to get ill on a dive trip, but the fact is it can happen. It will be less likely and less traumatic if you are careful and prepared.
The first step is, of course, don’t get sick, so here are some effective preventative measures you can take:
1. Stay as far away as possible from others who appear sick (e.g., folks who are coughing, sneezing).
2. Wash your hands frequently while travelling and keep them away from your nose, mouth and eyes.
3. In the developing world, be prudent about drinking water from the tap. Stick to bottled drinks, especially water, and make that ice you use also comes from distilled or bottled water.
4. Avoid unshelled fruits and vegetables. Stick to fruits with hard shells and avoid berries. If you chance it with leafy greens, they should be very well washed with clean water.
5. If you are in an area with insects, wear long sleeves and pants, avoiding dark or bright colors, especially at dawn and dusk. Try to stay indoors at dawn and dusk when many flying insects are most active.
6. When making reservations, make sure the resort has screened windows (it’s not as uncommon as you might think).
7. Wear a proven insect repellent such as full strength DEET or a picaridin-based repellant containing at least a 15% concentration.
8. Avoid scented toiletries and perfumes, which attract insects.
9. Get necessary vaccines before departure. You can check with your primary care physician but it’s very unlikely he will be travel-medicine savvy. Alternatively, locate a travel medicine specialist through ASTMH/ACCTMTH directory or my favorite, little-known gem, Passport Health to find out what’s currently being recommended for a specific destination.
10. Verify that your health insurance provider covers medical expenses abroad as many do not. Familiarize yourself with the details of your medical coverage, and especially with the process for documenting a claim (even DAN can be a problem if you don’t carefully follow the rules). In addition, it’s prudent to secure an IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers) membership. It’s free and the organization maintains a network of approved health professionals throughout the world who offer services to travellers at a fixed rate.
If your carrier doesn't cover you overseas, consider purchasing traveller’s insurance.
Other useful articles:
Stay healthy and know before you go.
DocVikingo has been scuba certified for more than 35 years and has dived all over the world. He is a practicing doctor in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area and has held faculty positions at several major hospitals, including Johns Hopkins. With an interest in diving medicine, he serves as administrator at Scuba Clinic Online.