New Englanders, by and large, consider themselves a healthy bunch, which they ascribe to clean living, brisk northern air, vigorous exercise (leaf raking, snow shoveling, and so on), and few excesses other than the stresses and strains of being a Red Sox fan (now greatly alleviated, thank goodness). Other than picking up a stray cold or flu, you shouldn't face any serious health risks when traveling in the region.
Exceptions? Well, yes -- you may find yourself at higher risk when exploring the outdoors, particularly in the backcountry. A few things to watch for when venturing off the beaten path:
- Poison ivy: This shiny, three-leafed plant is common throughout the region. If you touch it, you could develop a nasty, itchy rash that might seriously erode further enjoyment of your vacation. Some people experience a dangerously bad reaction, while others are barely affected if at all. If you're unfamiliar with what poison ivy looks like, ask at a ranger station or visitor information booth. Many have posters or books to help you with identification.
- Giardia: That crystal-clear stream coursing down a backcountry peak might look pure, but it could be contaminated with animal feces. Disgusting, yes, and also dangerous. When ingested by humans, Giardia cysts can cause serious diarrhea and loss of weight. The symptoms might not surface until well after you've left the backcountry and returned home. Carry your own water for day trips, or bring a small filter (available at any camping or sporting goods store) to treat backcountry water. Failing that, at least boil your water or treat it with iodine pills before using it -- even for cooking, drinking, or washing. If you feel diarrhea coming on, see a doctor immediately.
- Lyme disease: Lyme disease has been a growing problem in New England since 1975, when it was identified in the town of Lyme, Connecticut; thousands of cases are reported nationwide annually, and they're no trifling matter: Left untreated, Lyme disease can damage the heart. The disease is transmitted by tiny deer ticks, which are difficult to see -- but check your socks and body daily anyway (ideally with a partner). If you spot a bull's-eye-shaped rash, 3 to 8 inches in diameter (the rash may feel warm but usually doesn't itch), see a doctor right away. Lyme disease is more easily treated in early phases than later. Other symptoms may include muscle and joint pain, fever, or fatigue.
- Rabies: Since 1989, rabies has increasingly been spreading northward into New England. The disease is spread by animal saliva and is especially prevalent in skunks, raccoons, bats, and foxes. It is always fatal if left untreated in humans. Infected animals tend to display erratic and aggressive behavior; the best advice is to keep a safe distance between yourself and any wild animal you might encounter. If you're bitten, wash the wound as soon as you can and immediately seek medical attention. Treatment is no longer as painful as it used to be, but still involves a series of shots.
Those planning longer excursions into the backcountry of New England might find a compact first-aid kit with basic salves and medicines very handy to have along. Towns and villages throughout the region are reliably stocked with pharmacies, chain grocery stores, and Wal-Mart-type big-box stores where you can stock up on common medicines (such as calamine lotion and aspirin) to cope with minor ailments along the way.
What to Do if You Get Sick Away from Home
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise, they won't make it through airport security. Visitors from outside the U.S. should carry generic names of prescription drugs. For U.S. travelers, most reliable healthcare plans provide coverage if you get sick away from home. Foreign visitors may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later.
If you get sick, consider asking your hotel concierge to recommend a local doctor -- even his or her own. You can also try the emergency room at a local hospital. Many hospitals also have walk-in clinics for emergency cases that are not life-threatening; you may not get immediate attention, but you won't pay the high price of an emergency room visit. There are large, good hospitals in all cities in this region, as well as in many small towns. Check with your hotel or the local tourism office if you're concerned about proximity to hospitals.
New England -- with the notable exception of parts of Boston and Hartford -- boasts some of the lowest crime rates in the country. The odds of anything bad happening during your visit here are very slight. But all travelers are advised to take the usual precautions against theft, robbery, and assault.
Travelers should avoid any unnecessary public displays of wealth. Don't bring out fat wads of cash from your pocket, and save your best jewelry for private occasions. If you are approached by someone who demands money, jewelry, or anything else from you, do what most Americans do: Hand it over. Don't argue. Don't negotiate. Just comply. Afterward, immediately contact the police by dialing tel. 911 from almost any phone.
The crime you're statistically most likely to encounter is theft of items from your car. Don't leave anything of value in plain view, and lock valuables in your trunk.
Late at night, you should look for a well-lighted area if you need gas or you need to step out of your car for any reason.
Take the usual precautions against leaving cash or valuables in your hotel room when you're not present. Many hotels have safe-deposit boxes. Smaller inns and hotels often do not, although it can't hurt to ask to leave small items in the house safe.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.