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 track:
- 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 at all; it's best to simply just avoid it. 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 the disease 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 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. 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 northern New England might find a compact first-aid kit with basic salves and medicines very handy to have along. Towns and villages in the three states 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
Hospitals are easy to find in the cities of northern New England; rurally, however, you might need to depend on regional health centers or walk-in clinics.
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 the generic names of their prescription drugs. Foreign visitors may also need to pay all medical costs upfront in an emergency and seek reimbursement later. For U.S. travelers, most health-care plans provide coverage if you get sick away from home.
New England -- with the notable exception of parts of Boston -- boasts some of the lowest crime rates in the country. Northern New England is even more so; the odds of anything really bad happening during your visit here are extremely slim. But travelers should always take all the usual precautions against theft, robbery, and assault anyway.
Avoid any unnecessary public displays of wealth, for instance. 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, hand it over. Don't argue or negotiate. Just comply. Afterward, contact police right away by dialing tel. 911.
The crime you're statistically most likely to encounter here (as with anywhere in the U.S.) is the theft of items from your car. Don't leave anything of value in plain view, and lock valuables out of sight in your trunk. If you have an electronic security system, use it.
Also take the usual precautions against leaving cash, laptops, or valuables in your hotel room (or at least lying around in the open) whenever you're out of your room. Many hotels have safe-deposit boxes; use them. Smaller inns and hotels often do not offer any kind of safe, but it can't hurt to check.
Finally, when traveling late at night, look for a well-lighted area if you need to gas up or step out of your car for any reason.
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.