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If you get sick while traveling...

Travelers often are caught off-guard when they get sick on vacation, or take ill on a business trip. An illness away from home is not part of the itinerary.

We may feel concerns about getting sick when we travel overseas, but we shouldn't underestimate the potential of getting sick while traveling even within the United States.

Often the first reaction when getting sick while traveling is to try to feel better in the confines of a hotel bed, but if that doesn't work, a rush of questions will emerge: How can I find a doctor? How can I fill a prescription? If worse comes to worse, how can I find a hospital?

World Access, a travel insurance and assistance company, took a survey of business travelers. More than one-third said that either they have become "seriously" sick or injured while away from home, or they know of a colleague who has encountered such misery.

The prime concern, in regards to becoming sick on vacation, is finding a doctor and receiving proper medical attention. Travelers also worried about how family and/or friends would be informed, should they become incapacitated through injury or illness away from home. Another concern is proper insurance coverage.

For peace of mind, travelers should plan ahead to anticipate an illness away from home. Here's a checklist:

(1) Review your existing insurance. Ask if there are geographic limitations (such as more than 100 miles from home) if you encounter sickness on vacation or while engaged in business travel. There could be a difference: Your employer's policy possibly may provide coverage for a business trip, but not for a personal vacation. If you encounter a void in the existing insurance, then consider travel insurance.

2) If the need comes to enact the insurance, you're going to need the phone number to call, preferably a 24-hour response line. Do everything possible to call for approval prior to receiving a treatment, to reduce potential disputes afterward. You also should know how to reach your doctor. Put these numbers in a prominent place in your wallet or purse, in case you become incapacitated, along with personal contacts whom you would desire to be informed in an emergency. Along with these numbers, include a list of medications and allergies.

(3) If you are at wit's end with where to find a doctor or pursue medical attention, inquire at the hotel desk. Staffers at any reputable hotel should have experience and training in dealing with roomers who encounter illness away from home. If your hotel doesn't seem up to snuff, or if you aren't staying in a hotel, then call a major hotel and inquire. Even if you aren't a guest, a staff member should be able to help you and give pertinent advice.

Of course, there also are steps you can take for prevention. Get plenty of rest before you travel. Wash your hands frequently. Pack an extra supply of your prescription medicines, in case you wind up being away from home longer than planned. Prepare a traveler's health kit with items such as pain relievers, bandages, antibacterial creams, and diarrhea medicine (in case of food poisoning). You also should include a thermometer, and if your temperature exceeds 102 degrees, it's time to seek immediate medical attention.

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