This month I took a trip back to Pakistan, a country that I last visited eighteen years ago. It was a great opportunity to visit friends and family, reconnect with lost roots, and pay my respects to those in my family who are no longer with us. It was also a great opportunity to help the less fortunate with their muscle and joint ailments.
The trip allowed me to explore some common health concerns. Here is a list of some general health tips I would suggest if you decide to travel to Pakistan, or a related developing country:
1. Smog: Getting off the plane, the difference in air quality is immediately apparent. It becomes slightly more difficult to breathe, the air feels heavier and the haze is everywhere. Even direct sunlight has a difficult time getting through the thick haze, making the sky appear cloudy throughout the day.
At first I thought I was exaggerating how bad the smog around me was, but then I did some research and realized how bad the air really is.
Air pollution is measured in the amount of particles found that are less than 2.5 microns in size per meter cubed (µg/m3 of PM 2.5). These size particles are found in dust and soot, and are small enough to build up in the lungs to cause asthma and chronic lung disease. The World Health Organization recommends that there should not be more than 10 µg/m3 of PM 2.53. Rawalpindi ranked seventh in the top ten countries with the worst air pollution, with more than ten times the WHO limit! (107 µg/m3 of PM 2.5). Karachi, Peshawar and New Delhi ranked even higher.1
My solution for my next trip was pretty simple: wear a mask. A good pollution mask can filter out 2.5PM particles and help you breathe easier. For my next trip I will most likely pick up a face mask such as: https://www.airinum.com/products/urban-air-mask 2
2. Hepatitis A and B: Hepatitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver. When travelling, this infection is usually caused by a virus infection. It is an easy infection to get, and can lead to serious liver disease and even death if not managed correctly. Hepatitis A and B are widespread in developing countries as shown in the map below:
Hepatitis A can be contracted by eating food or water that has been contaminated by human fecal waste. Ensure anyone handling your food has washed their hands thoroughly. Avoid eating uncooked seafood or shellfish and eating salads washed in contaminated water.
Hepatitis B can be contracted by coming into contact with bodily fluids of a contaminated person. Manicure and pedicure tools, sharing nail clippers and undergoing medical or dental procedures with contaminated equipment can cause Hepatitis B.
It should be mentioned here that there is a vaccine available for hepatitis A and B that could protect you on your trip. You may want to discuss with your medical physician to learn more about the benefits and risks of vaccination.
3. Noise Pollution: My first experience with noise pollution did not begin in Pakistan but in the airplane itself. I have travelled many times before, but this was my first 13-hour non-stop flight. The noise during take-off and landing was expected, but the continuous humming of the aircraft for 13 hours definitely gave me a headache. Also the aircraft we flew in (Boeing-777), is apparently known for its loud cabins. According to this BBC article (4) the cabin noise is usually 85 decibels during cruising altitudes and 105 decibels during take-off and landing. Compare that to the chart below where a lawn mower measures at 100 decibels, and you can see how airplane cabins can cause significant noise pollution.
The most common symptom after a long flight is ringing in the ear, known as tinnitus. This is the same symptom you may experience after listening to loud music, and is a sign of noise injury. Ideally you want to try to keep the surrounding noise levels under 50dB if possible. This can be done by using a combination of ear plugs. To learn more about noise levels and finding the right ear plugs, click here. But for simplicity sake, look for NRR33 rated ear plugs. These will be the most effective common ear plugs you can use while flying; an example can be found on Amazon.ca here.
I hope these three simple health tips will help you travel safer and healthier. If you do decide on a trip to Pakistan, I can assure you it will be an incredible adventure. Below are a few pictures and videos from my trip that I hope you enjoy!