Utah's extremes -- from burning desert to snow-covered mountains -- can cause health problems for the ill-prepared. If you haven't been to the desert before, the heat, dryness, and intensity of the sun can be difficult to imagine. Bring a hat, strong sunblock, sunglasses with ultraviolet protection, and moisturizing lotion for dry skin. Hikers and others planning to be outdoors should carry water -- at least a gallon per person, per day.
Another potential problem for short-term visitors is elevation. There's less oxygen and lower humidity in Utah's mountains, which rise to over 13,500 feet. If you have heart or respiratory problems, consult your doctor before planning a trip to the mountains. Even if you're in generally good health, you may want to ease into high elevations by changing altitude gradually. Don't fly in from sea level in the morning and plan to hike 10,000-foot Cedar Breaks National Monument that afternoon. Spend a day or two at 4,000- or 5,000-feet elevation to let your body adjust. Also, get lots of rest, avoid large meals, and drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids, especially water.
State health officials warn outdoor enthusiasts to take precautions against the hantavirus, a rare but often fatal respiratory disease first recognized in 1993. About half of the country's 200-plus confirmed cases have been reported in the Four Corners states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, and about 45% of the cases have been fatal. The disease is usually spread by the urine, feces, and saliva of deer mice and other rodents, so health officials recommend that campers avoid areas with signs of rodent droppings. Symptoms of hantavirus are similar to flu, and lead to breathing difficulties and shock.
General Availability of Healthcare -- Most cities in Utah have hospitals with 24-hour emergency rooms, but the smaller towns and less populated regions often have little in the way of healthcare. It is best to find out where the nearest medical facilities are to your specific destination.
Altitude Sickness -- For many people who live at or near sea level, the most common health issue is discomfort caused by Utah's high elevations. Altitude sickness is a process that can take a day or more to dissipate. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle pain, and lightheadedness. Doctors recommend that, until acclimated, travelers should avoid heavy exertion, consume light meals, and drink lots of liquids, avoiding those with caffeine or alcohol.
Bugs, Bites & Other Wildlife Concerns -- Rattlesnakes, hobo spiders, and wood ticks are native to Utah, and each can inflict a nasty bite, the former two being venomous and the latter carrying a number of diseases. If you experience pain or swelling after a hike or camping, it could be a bug bite. Anti-itch cream will help diminish the itch, but time is the best medication -- unless of course, the symptoms are dramatic, in which case you should seek medical attention or call tel. 911 immediately. While hiking or camping, insect repellent is always a good idea.
Respiratory Illnesses -- Air quality can be an issue on the Wasatch Front, where numerous cities have struggled to meet federal standards for various pollutants. For the daily air quality report, visit www.airquality.utah.gov.
Sun/Elements/Extreme Weather Exposure -- In the desert area, extreme heat is common; wintertime in the Rockies can bring freezing temperatures and powerful blizzards. Depending on the time of year and your destination, it is best to be prepared with plenty of water and a wide range of layers for clothing. Symptoms of sunstroke include dizziness, clouded vision, and fainting. The best cure is shade, rest, and plenty of water. Seek medical attention if symptoms are dramatic.
Waterborne Illnesses -- Two waterborne hazards are Giardia and Campylobacter, with symptoms that wreak havoc on the human digestive system. If you pick up these pesky bugs, they might accompany you on your trip home. Untreated water from lakes and streams should be boiled for at least 5 minutes before consumption or pumped through a fine-mesh water filter specifically designed to remove bacteria.
What to Do If You Get Sick Away from Home
Salt Lake City has the state's most comprehensive medical facilities, including LDS Hospital, 8th Avenue and C Street (tel. 801/408-1100; www.ldshospital.com), and Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, 1050 E. South Temple (tel. 801/350-4111; www.saltlakeregional.com); both have 24-hour emergency rooms. Many of the national parks have clinics. For emergencies, dial [tel[ 911.
International visitors should contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; tel. 716/754-4883, or in Canada 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns in the region you're visiting. The United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards and offers tips on food safety. The website www.tripprep.com, sponsored by a consortium of travel-medicine practitioners, may also offer helpful advice.
Utah in general is a very safe vacation destination. Car accidents are more of a problem than crime in almost every corner of the state, and the biggest safety concerns apply largely to backpackers, skiers, rock climbers, and other adventurous types. As in any city, it's important to remain aware of one's surroundings in downtown Salt Lake City; South State Street is often highlighted as the most unsavory strip in all of Utah. In the backcountry of the state's numerous parks and forests, it's important to always carry plenty of water, a map, and a compass, and to let someone know of your plans in case something goes awry.
As you head into the great outdoors, also bear in mind that injuries often occur when people fail to follow instructions. Take heed when the experts tell you to stay on established ski trails, hike only in designated areas and carry rain gear, and wear a life jacket when rafting. Mountain weather can be fickle, and many beautiful spots are in remote areas. Be prepared for sudden changes in temperature at any time of year, and watch out for summer afternoon thunderstorms that can leave you drenched and shivering in minutes.
When visiting such historic sites as ghost towns, gold mines, and railroads, remember that they were likely built more than 100 years ago, when safety standards were extremely lax, if they existed at all. Never enter abandoned buildings, mines, or rail cars on your own. When touring historic attractions, use common sense and don't be afraid to ask questions.
Walkways in mines are often uneven, poorly lit, and sometimes slippery due to seeping groundwater that can stain your clothing with its high iron content. In old buildings, be prepared for steep, narrow stairways, creaky floors, and low ceilings and doorways. Steam trains are wonderful as long as you remember that steam is very hot; oil and grease can ruin your clothing; and, at the very least, soot will make you very dirty.
Crime is relatively low in Utah in general and especially the parks, but Salt Lake City and the other cities have their share of incidents. Always keep a close eye on your wallet or purse and keep your wits about you when exploring unfamiliar neighborhoods.
While most Utahns are tolerant people, the Mormon Church has been criticized in the past for racism, sexism, and homophobia. Recent church initiatives have demonstrated more progressive attitudes, and the mass immigration of non-Mormons from other states has weakened the church's power. However, the state remains one of the least diverse in the United States, and strains of intolerance remain.
Check your existing insurance policies and credit card coverage before you buy travel insurance. You may already be covered for lost luggage, canceled tickets, and/or medical expenses.
The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you're taking, but expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com (tel. 800/487-4722). Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information for prices from more than a dozen companies.
Trip-Cancellation Insurance -- Trip-cancellation insurance helps you get your money back if you have to back out of a trip, if you have to go home early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Permissible reasons for cancellation can range from sickness to natural disasters to the State Department declaring your destination unsafe for travel.
For information, contact one of the following recommended insurers: Access America (tel. 800/284-8300; www.accessamerica.com), Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com), Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com), or Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 888/228-9792; www.travelex-insurance.com).
Medical Insurance -- For travel overseas, most health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services upfront and reimburse you only after you return home. As a safety net, you may want to buy travel medical insurance, particularly if you're traveling to a remote or high-risk area where emergency evacuation is a possible scenario. If you require additional medical insurance, try MEDEX Assistance (tel. 800/732-5309; www.medexassist.com) or Travel Assistance International (tel. 800/821-2828; www.travelassistance.com).
Lost-Luggage Insurance -- On flights within the U.S., checked baggage is covered up to $3,300 per ticketed passenger. On international flights (including U.S. portions of international trips), baggage coverage is limited to approximately $9.07 per pound, up to approximately $635 per checked bag. If you plan to check items more valuable than the standard liability, see if your homeowner's policy covers your valuables, get baggage insurance as part of your comprehensive travel-insurance package, or buy Travel Guard's "BagTrak" product. If your luggage is lost, immediately file a lost-luggage claim at the airport, detailing the luggage contents. Most airlines require that you report delayed, damaged, or lost baggage within 4 hours of arrival. The airlines are required to deliver luggage, once found, directly to your house or destination free of charge.
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.