Let’s Be Careful Out There

  • Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, Between Cruises

Hill Street Blues fans will remember the line Sgt. Phil Esterhaus used to end his morning briefing: Hey, Let’s Be Careful Out There. (If you don’t remember it, check the Google machine.)

No one who goes on a cruise wants to worry about being careful or safe, but just like at home there are hazards worth considering. You need to be safe in a variety of ports.

My friend Joyce wrote about just one example recently when she limited herself to ship-sponsored excursions in Papua New Guinea. She wisely decided not to explore on her own in a country where the U.S. State Department warns travelers:

“Violent crime, such as gang-rape, carjacking, home invasions, kidnappings and armed robberies, is common. Tensions between communal or clan groups may result in violence at any time without warning.”

Joyce played it safe with the ship tour and had a wonderful experience visiting a private home in a small village, bonding with a 10-year-old girl. I usually much prefer exploring on my own, but like Joyce I know it pays to do your research and take precautions.

I just took another kind of precaution in preparation for my next two cruises, which will take me to dozens of countries around the world. For the first time I visited a travel health specialist for a personalized plan to avoid travel illnesses.

I have a good history of staying stayed up to date on more common vaccinations (annual flu shots, measles, mumps and rubella; tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.) More recently I had vaccines for shingles and pneumonia. But now I am traveling to areas where “just don’t drink the water” might not be enough.

Before my clinic visit, I spent almost an hour completing an online profile, listing my current medications and doses, my medical history and the countries I will be visiting on my upcoming world cruise. During 128 days we will cruise to every continent except Europe – a whopping 48 ports in 30 countries, plus I have added an overnight safari in Kenya.

All that preparation paid off for my appointment. Passport Health’s system generated a country-by-country list of required or recommended vaccinations, medications and precautions. It also searched for any contraindications caused by my health history and medications.

The result? I got a vaccination for yellow fever and a polio booster. I opted to take the four-tablet regimen for typhoid instead of the shot (five-year vs. two-year coverage). And I got a prescription for a preventive malaria medication that I will take while in Africa.

During my appointment we also discussed some other precautions, some of which I chose to skip. There is a meningitis belt around part of Africa, but I won’t be in that area this time. I also passed on Japanese encephalitis, which costs $750 for the two-dose regimen. Mosquitoes spread it, and I will be diligent in the use of a treatment with diethyltoluamide (DEET). In fact, I bought a kit with repellent and a spray for treatment of my clothing. I also passed on vaccinations for cholera and rabies, as I consider them lower risk.

Fortunately, the ship has a medical center with a full staff including a doctor. My medical evacuation insurance will pay to get me home if necessary.

So like with just about everything in life, there are risks. Last year in Bali, Indonesia, Joyce and I took a walking food tour in downtown Denpasar, a large city where our driver told us cruise ship passengers rarely go. I trusted our guide who said the foods we ate from street vendors would be safe. And I didn’t get sick. But I might not be quite so daring next time.

My challenge is finding that fine line between being responsible and enjoying the moment. I figure I can improve my odds of the latter by preparing first.