First aid for the road

Special to The Times

SARS, West Nile virus and other travel health risks tend to dominate the news, but minor scrapes, back pain and wayward fillings are statistically more probable for many travelers.

Medical kits can help travelers self-treat these problems on the road, at least until a doctor, dentist or other health-care provider is available.

Travelers thinking about buying a first-aid kit should choose models based on their destination, suggests Susan Hickman, a co-owner of Distant Lands, a book and travel supply store at 56 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (800) 310-3220,

For those travelers going to developed countries, she likes Adventure Medical's Ultra Light ($30). Besides a first-aid pamphlet written by Dr. Eric Weiss, a travel medicine expert, the kit has moleskin for blisters; sterile dressing; antihistamines; medications for cold, flu, headaches, muscle aches and diarrhea; butterfly closure strips for wounds; and medical instruments such as a splinter picker.

For travelers going to developing countries, Hickman recommends the Savvy Traveler, $45.95. It has rehydration salts; suture and syringe supplies (for countries with substandard sanitation); medications for cold, flu, headache, muscle aches and diarrhea; a thermometer and other instruments.

At Magellan's, an online and retail travel supply store, the World Traveler Medical Kit is a favorite, "particularly for developing countries," says Lynn Staneff, a spokeswoman. The kit includes syringes, a travel medicine book, medications, and wound-management and other supplies. It costs $49 from Magellan's, 1006 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, or 110 W. Sola St., Santa Barbara; (800) 962-4943,

Other kits are customized not by level of medical treatment at the destination but by mode of travel or the planned activity. For car travelers, a basic first-aid kit for $9 is available from Travel, (800) 917-4616,; it includes bandages, a first-aid instruction card, an auto distress flag, cotton balls, first-aid cream and other supplies.

Outdoor adventurers should choose a kit that matches their sport. For instance, Adventure Medical, (800) 324-3517,, has its Paddler Series for water sports enthusiasts. The comprehensive kit, meant for a trip of up to 28 days with 15 people, includes splints, treatment for low blood sugar, rehydration salts, blister and burn treatments, antihistamines and medical instruments such as a thermometer. It's $170 and up.

The Camper 400 is a $50 kit for up to 14 days' use by eight people. It has first-aid and CPR instructions, bleeding and shock treatment supplies, wound care, fracture and strain treatment supplies, eyewash, pain relievers and antihistamines.

REI, (800) 426-4840,, carries first-aid kits for camping and hiking. There's a kid's model by Sawyer for $5.95, which contains easy-to-read first-aid instructions, bandages and an emergency whistle. And there is a $99 backcountry kit with bandages, medicine, sterile equipment, medical information and other supplies.

Besides choosing a medical kit to fit your destination and activity, experts advise customizing it for your existing medical conditions. If you're prone to low backaches and other pain or muscle problems, take along anti-inflammatories, suggests Dr. Henry Goitz, chief of sports medicine at the Medical College of Ohio, Toledo, and a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. If over-the-counter analgesics don't produce enough relief, ask your doctor for prescription-strength medicine. "Take the lowest dose possible that gives relief," he says.

Dental kits could help if you dislodge a crown or a filling. The Temparin Dental First Aid Kit ( includes temporary filling material, toothache medication made from clove oil and a container in which to save a dislodged tooth. It's about $8; the temporary filling material alone is available for $6.

Healthy Traveler appears twice a month. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at kathleendoheny@

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