Most Canadian travellers come down with some type of illness when flying abroad, says a travel medicine doctor offering prevention tips.

"The estimates in the literature suggest between 50 and 75 per cent of travellers acquire some type of illness," said Dr. Jay Keystone of the Medisys Travel Health and Immunization Clinic in Toronto.

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Food, water, vaccinations and pills are all considerations for travellers, said Dr. Jay Keystone. (David MacIntosh/CBC))

In general, travellers are advised:

  • Don't drink the water.
  • Don't have ice cubes.
  • Keep salads and street vendors to a minimum.
  • Keep prescribed antibiotics on you.
  • Avoid getting injections in other countries.
  • Get the appropriate vaccinations and anti-malarial pills for the area you're visiting.

Mild travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness, he said. He recommends taking both over-the-counter drugs as well as prescribed antibiotics if the diarrhea interferes with daily activities.

For more serious illnesses that sicken less than 10 per cent of travellers, getting vaccinated is the best prevention but many people leave it too late, Keystone said.

"Travellers should be going to a travel clinic six to eight weeks before travel, and the older you are, the earlier you should go," he advised.

Jill Fairbrother headed to the clinic on Tuesday ahead of her trip to Ecuador, where she's hoping to enjoy a visit to the rainforest and the Galapagos. It's the home of the blue-footed booby, a penguin-like bird with bright blue feet she's looking forward to seeing. 

"We have had advice about malaria tablets," said Fairbrother. "We received the yellow fever shot and hepatitis A. Feeling actually like we'll be much more safe when we do travel."

Last week, the Public Health Agency of Canada alerted people to cholera in certain areas of Cuba. Elsewhere recently, meninogoccocal outbreaks occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, dengue fever cases showed up Italy, and malaria has been resurgent in parts of Greece.

To put those risks into perspective, however, Keystone said motor vehicle accidents are still the main killer.

For people returning to their homeland after a decade or more, malaria is a concern. Fever in a returning traveller should be considered malaria and treated seriously until proven otherwise, he advised.

With files from CBC's Kim Brunhuber