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Staying Healthy Abroad

A variety of factors can impact health while abroad. This section covers some factors that may be common in all destinations, but travelers are encouraged to learn more about health concerns for their particular destination by:

Jet Lag and Adjustment

Jet lag occurs when people traverse multiple time zones rapidly, disturbing their physiological and psychological rhythms. Some symptoms of jet lag include general discomfort, sleep disturbances, reduced mental and physical performance and irregular appetite and eating patterns. Here are a few tips to help lessen the effects of jet lag:

  • Rest up: Be sure to get enough sleep the week before your trip and sleep during your flight.
  • Reset your watch or phone: It helps to set your clock to the local time of your destination at the beginning of your flight.
  • Hydrate: Airplane cabins are very dry places, so be sure to drink lots of liquids like water and juice while on your flight. Keep-up your fluid intake while abroad. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which both cause dehydration.
  • Stay active: During your flight, do some stretching exercises in your seat. Get up and walk around the cabin frequently. Activity will help your body’s circulation and allow you to feel less sluggish after the flight.
  • Adjust meal and sleep times: As soon as you arrive in country, be sure to adjust your meal times and sleep schedule to the local time.
  • Be aware: As a result of your jet lag, you may feel sluggish, drowsy and have reduced performance for a few days after you arrive.
    Jet lag may persist for multiple days and may complicate management of preexisting health conditions.  While jet lag is natural in the first few days or weeks, do not be afraid to seek help if it is impacting your health.

Alcohol and Drugs

Travelers should be aware of the protocol for alcohol and drugs in the Ohio State Code of Student Conduct as well as any program related restrictions. The use or abuse of drugs can severely impact your health and is prohibited on Ohio State sponsored travel, and may result in the immediate dismissal from the program.

In many countries, alcohol may be consumed legally at a much younger age. Excess drinking runs contrary to a primary purpose of education abroad, to interact with the local populations and learn about a new culture. Do not operate on faulty assumptions that drinking equals culture, and engage in exploring your new environment. Excess consumption of alcohol can severely compromise one’s health. Alcohol is classified as a depressant because it slows down the central nervous system’s control of involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex. Acute alcohol poisoning can occur when someone drinks too much alcohol in a short time. While abstaining or practicing moderation is the best preventative, it is important to know the signs of alcohol overdose for your own health and to respond to peers with whom you may be traveling. 

Safe Sex

Travelers are encouraged to be cautious about their sexual activity while abroad. It is important to note that HIV and other STIs are prevalent in all countries, and in some locations may be acutely higher.  Sexual intercourse can also serve as a mode of transmission for various viral diseases, including the Zika virus. One cannot culturally assume that a potential partner is educated about safe sex. According to statistics gathered by International SOS, 2-10% of students acquire a Sexually Transmitted Infection or Sexually Transmitted Disease while abroad. The most reliable way to prevent infection is to not have sex (i.e., anal, vaginal or oral). If you are sexually active, we strongly recommend that you pack condoms, as condoms and other forms of birth control are not widely available in certain countries. It is also advisable to discuss vaccination for certain sexually transmitted infections as part of a medical travel consultation.

Where matters of sexual health and safety are concerned, it is critical to avoid making assumptions about how you are perceived and how you perceive others. What you might intend only as friendliness could potentially be interpreted as something significantly more serious. Similarly, it is important to make no assumptions about consent. Take the initiative to ensure that both you and your partner are mutually communicating. More information on sexual violence mitigation and survivor support is available in the traveler safety section.

High Altitude Exposure

Columbus is only 902 feet above sea level. Some major cities including Quito, Ecuador and La Paz, Bolivia, as well as popular travel spots such as Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and Machu Picchu, Peru are at significantly higher elevations. If you are traveling to an area with high altitudes (above 8,000 feet) you should be aware of altitude illness mitigation, symptoms and reactions.

Altitude illness is a broad term for multiple conditions, including:

  • Acute mountain sickness (AMS) – headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sleeplessness, fatigue and impaired memory.
  • High altitude cerebral edema (HACE) – confusion, changes in behavior and loss of coordination.
  • High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) – Increasing breathlessness, breathlessness lying flat, cough, chest tightness and blood tinged mucus.
    Travelers with severe signs and symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

Travelers with certain preexisting conditions including heart or lung disease, epilepsy, diabetes, and pregnancy, should consult a trained medical provider before traveling to high-altitude destinations.

Sun and Heat Exposure

Certain factors regarding their destination can expose travelers to risks of sun and heat exposure. Some factors that can increase sun exposure are:

  • Low latitude – the closer one travels to the equator, the greater the UV exposure. The exposure remains more consistent throughout the year, so even winter break travelers face heightened exposure.
  • High altitude – UV increases about 2% for every 1,000-foot increase in elevation due to thinner mountain air.
  • Destination season – travel during winter or spring break in the United States can mean traveling at peak sun exposure season in areas of the southern hemisphere. 
  • Elements - can reflect or scatter UV radiation. Snow may reflect as much as 80% of UV, sand 15%, and water 10%. 
  • Medications – some medications, including certain anti-malarial and antibiotics (e.g. Ciproflaxin) that are commonly used by travelers can make your skin more sun sensitive.  

It is important to immediately practice sun precaution. Do not wait until you arrive to find sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that protects against UVA and UVB rays; purchase it before you leave and pack it (carry a 3oz supply in your carry-on toiletries.)

Heat Illness

Heat illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, fainting, heat edema (swelling of hands, feet and ankles), heat rash and muscle cramps. Under prolonged exposure or strenuous activity, heat illness can occur quickly. Symptoms of heat illness include:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Extreme thirst
  • Decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine

If you experience any of these symptoms during hot weather, immediately move to a cool place and drink hydrating liquids. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If you or another traveler has a high body temperature and is either unconscious, confused or has stopped sweating, seek immediate medical attention