Mardi Gras! Carnival! The crazy season is nearly upon us. Thousands and thousands the world over are donning their masks, boas and beads, getting ready for all the glorious madness and indulgence they crave before settling into the introspection and soul-searching of the Lenten season. Too much eating, too much drinking, too much dancing – that’s Carnival!
The more popular Carnival destinations include Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Venice, Italy; Quebec, Canada; New Orleans, Louisiana; Nice, France; and Trinidad and Tobago. The dates vary but most celebrations start on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In 2012, the biggest days will be between February 18 and February 21. The beloved last day of celebration is called Mardi Gras, ‘Fat Tuesday‘.
Carnival and Mardi Gras are a blast, larger than life, and the parades and parties that highlight the celebrations bring together travelers and tourists from every background. While nearly all of the festivities are fun and safe, there are some dangers: crime, excessive drinking, unsafe or unfamiliar food, risky sex, heat-related illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), malaria and other tropical diseases are still quite common in certain countries. It’s a good idea to take some precautions before you Samba your way to glory.
Before you go:
- Learn all you can about your destination – this site is a good start: Travelers Health
- See a doctor familiar with travel medicine, 4-6 weeks before your trip.
- Be sure you are up-to-date with all your routine shots, including the seasonal flu vaccine.
- Get any other vaccines and medications as needed for your particular destination.
Staying healthy while you’re there:
- Whether or not you like it, American travelers are sometimes crime targets. Be sensible. Avoid traveling at night. Stay away from marginal locales. Travel with a friend or companion.
- Street food is one of the joys of Carnival. But be careful. Be sure what you eat is well cooked and served hot. Drink only beverages from sealed bottles or cans. Do not use ice unless you are certain it was made from bottled water. Contaminated food causes travelers’ diarrhea and other more serious illnesses, including typhoid fever. You will not have much fun if you’re confined to your hotel bathroom or even hospitalized, so be smart about what you eat. Even Anthony Bourdain is sensible about street snacks.
- Do not eat foods that are raw or undercooked. If you eat fresh fruits or vegetables, be sure to peel them yourself. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Drunk people get hurt, hurt others, find themselves engaging in risky sex, and get arrested. The wild and uninhibited atmosphere of Carnival is part of its appeal, obviously, but stupid is stupid, wherever you are. Use protection – that you’ve purchased in the States, by the way, and brought with you.
- This may sound obvious, but February and March are the summer months in the Southern Hemisphere. Dehydration and heat-related illnesses are very common during Carnival in the tropics as well. Keep cool, use sunscreen and drink plenty of (bottled only!) water.
- You will want to use plenty of insect repellent to prevent insect and mosquito bites that can transmit dengue, malaria, Japanese encephalitis and other infections. And if you are visiting an area with malaria and your physician prescribed medicine, take that medicine precisely as prescribed.
Once you’re back home:
- Pay attention to how you feel once you get back. See a doctor immediately should you have a fever with a cough or sore throat; have any trouble breathing; have fever, chills, headache, muscle soreness, tiredness or any flu-like symptoms and you’ve been in an area with malaria.
- When you see the doctor, be sure to tell him or her that you recently returned from an international trip.
- Malaria can develop up to a year after travel.