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A doctor in the house: Travelling with your own medical kit can keep you healthy and ready for business. (Business Travel).

It's a scene you don't want to repeat. It's 3 a.m. and you're lying in a hotel room bed in an exotic, faraway city. You're there on business and have an important meeting later that day. The previous evening, you joined local business colleagues for dinner, eating foods that your Canadian stomach had never experienced. The cramps begin and intensify as you make numerous trips to the bathroom.

Some call it Montezuma's Revenge or Bali Belly. The medical term is traveller's diarrhea, a condition that is unpleasant and debilitating, particularly to the stressed-out road warrior who must be in top form in five hours to ensure that a lucrative contract is signed.

The condition may not have been prevented, but travel medicine experts suggest there are ways for frequent business travellers to alleviate it quickly. They say travellers should be prepared, and that means bringing a customized medical kit with them.

"Business travellers should carry a medical kit because they might be in countries where English is not the first language, where they may have difficulty finding what they're looking for if they get sick, or where the medical care is substandard," says Dr. Jay Keystone, staff physician of Toronto General Hospital's Centre for Travel and Tropical Medicine. "Self-treatment may be a much better option than going to a pharmacy. The other issue is that the quality of medications in some third- world countries may not be as good as ours and in fact may be counterfeit."

What you pack in your medical kit depends on various factors including the destination; the calibre of health care at that destination; what pre-existing conditions you have, such as diabetes or heart disease; and the common occurrence of certain diseases in the area, such as malaria.

"My first suggestion is to look in your medicine cabinet to see what medications and medical supplies you normally keep around the house," says Dr. Mark Wise, a Thornhill, Ont., doctor specializing in travel medicine.

One of the first things to assemble is a first-aid kit, which should include bandages, an antiseptic, a tensor bandage for sprains, tweezers, a topical antibiotic such as Polysporin, a thermometer and scissors. The September 11th terrorist incident in the U.S. has heightened airport security, so any kit that contains sharp instruments should be packed in checked luggage.

Syringes are also a consideration, especially for business travellers going to third-world countries and, of course, for those people who must carry them, such as diabetics. Again, they must go into checked luggage and travellers must have an official note from their doctor saying that they are not for recreational use and why they are taking them.

Because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, business travellers should bring over-the-counter medications to treat various conditions. These can include an anti-motility drug such as Pepto-Bismol or Imodium for traveller's diarrhea, painkillers, antacids, laxatives, medication for motion sickness, and antihistamines, particularly if the traveller is prone to allergic reactions. For those with severe allergies to things like peanuts or shellfish, an Epi-Pen is a must.

Obviously, regular prescriptions should be included. Wise says prescriptions should always be left in the original labelled container to avoid questions from airport security or customs officials. If they include medicine that contains the narcotic codeine, the traveller should bring a note from a physician indicating reasons for carrying the medication.

In case a prescription is lost, Wise recommends that travellers bring a list identifying all prescriptions using the generic name because some prescription medications have different brand names in other countries.

Both Wise and Keystone suggest that an important element to any customized medical kit is a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Wise says Cipro, widely touted as the drug to treat anthrax, is one drug to consider. As well, Keystone says a number of antibiotics in the fluoroquinlone family, such as norfioxacin and levofloxacin, can be used to treat lungs, skin, bladder and bowels. Another drug he recommends from another family is azithromycin.

While taking antibiotics without a doctor's approval is generally not considered good practice at home, Wise says "one doesn't need to pop an antibiotic right away, but after 24 to 48 hours, if you're coughing up green stuff, it traditionally means it's a bacterial infection and you should take an antibiotic."

In addition to treatment of various infections, experts say antibiotics should be used to treat traveller's diarrhea. "If it's a mild case, say one or two loose movements, don't jump in with an antibiotic. But any more than that, take them because your business trip could be mined," says Keystone.

Keystone recommends that in conjunction with an antibiotic, travellers suffering from Montezuma's Revenge should take Imodium because the combination tends to work fast in relieving symptoms.

For jet lag, Keystone says melatonin is one solution, but it is not available in Canada. Travellers can, however, use a short-acting sedative such as triazolam, more commonly known as Halcion or temazepam.

Wise says these medications can help travellers fall asleep on the plane, when they arrive at their destination and when they return home, without making them feel hung over.

While being prepared for the worst is always a good idea, Wise advises that travellers prevent illnesses by looking after themselves.

"Even though many people think business travel is glamorous, it's stressful, so business travellers should get enough rest, find some mental health time, eat well, get fresh air, exercise and keep in touch with home," he notes.

Carolyn Green is a Napanee, Ont.-based business writer who specializes in business travel.
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Author:Green, Carolyn
Publication:CMA Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2002
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