Maybe it is because I am waiting to board an airplane headed to Vietnam, where conditions might be a bit dicey, but an article titled "Why Tourists Wind Up in the ER" in Conde Naste Magazine by Cassie Shortsleeve caught my eye.
Although there is the occasional crocodile attack or death-defying fall trying to get the 'perfect' photo, most of the reasons why folks end up in ER in a foreign country are pretty mundane, and in most cases can be minimized or avoided completely. Stomach problems, chest pains, headaches, fevers, and coughs are the most common.
First, let's talk flu. Although you can catch flu anywhere, according to the article, Asia is the worst for this due to concentrated, temperate cities in China and elsewhere across Asia. How to avoid? The obvious is a flu shot, but general hygiene practices will go a long way as well. My mantra, especially while traveling, is "wash your hands." Moreover, don't touch things you do not absolutely have to. If you must hold that rail on the escalator, for instance, pull your sleeve down to cover your hand.
Here's one you may not think about until it hits you, altitude sickness. Some people are very susceptible and may develop serious symptoms, but most of us will be impacted to a lesser degree. If you are at a high elevation and notice a headache, nausea, difficulty sleeping, or shortness of breath, the high heights could be affecting you. To avoid this, you should consider ascending slowly. Spend a night at a moderate altitude. Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and skip the booze.
Finally, the CDC estimates thirty to seventy percent of travelers get the dreaded condition we all call 'travelers flu.' This too can be avoided, however, if we stick with boiled or bottled water, and avoid foods washed in local water. Moreover, don't forget ice cubes. Pepto Bismol and Imodium usually take care of this pretty quickly, but if these do not work, you should get to a doctor or clinic for an antibiotic.