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Traveling with Insulin

Keeping Insulin Cool Without Refrigeration or Ice

By David Mendosa

Posted On: July 16, 2003
Last Update: January 21, 2005

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you didn’t have to bother to refrigerate your insulin when you travel? I’m sure that in the past the need to have a refrigerator nearby kept many of us from adventure travel in the third world.

Gel keeps insulin cool for 48 hours.

While you do have to keep your insulin cool, you don’t have to strap a portable refrigerator to your back while you attempt your first ascent of Mt. Everest. Paddling down the Amazon can also be a bit inconvenient with a refrigerator.

There are many more likely trips where you might think you need to have a refrigerator for your insulin. For example, I recently booked a short vacation in a cottage on Northern California’s Russian River. My wife, who uses both insulin cartridges and vials, insisted that we get a kitchenette so she could refrigerate the insulin.

The kitchenette with its refrigerator wasn’t necessary, as we later realized. We could have used an insulin carrying case that included a cold pack.

Our experience, however, had been only with those carrying cases that were tethered to refrigeration. The packs stay cold only until the ice in them melts, requiring repeated visits to the fridge.

We were not familiar with a British company, Frio UK Ltd., which until recently had only limited representation in the United States. Frio’s cooling wallets keep insulin cool and safe for up to 45 hours—up to five times longer than ice packs—even if the temperature outside is 100°F.

You activate the wallet by immersing it in cold water for 10 to 15 minutes. That makes the crystals in the panels of the wallet expand into a gel that will remain cool for several days with Frio’s patented process. Even though it makes use of evaporation to stay cool, the Frio wallet will remain dry to the touch after you take it out of the water and dry it off.

Different sizes and shapes of Frio wallets accommodate all types and makes of insulin pumps, insulin pens, cartridges, and of course vials. They come in a choice of seven sizes, ranging from 2½" by 7" to one large enough for an insulin pump.

I didn't start to research and use Frio wallets until a medical missionary named Carol Hernandez brought them to my attention. Carol is a registered nurse who herself uses an insulin pump.

“I have my own consulting business and travel extensively,” she wrote me. “I had difficulty keeping insulin cool without refrigeration. Then, I started using FRIO insulin cooling wallets and was so thrilled that now I distribute for them. The FRIO wallets last for two days without reactivation in plain tap water and are inexpensive and reusable. I have used mine in Tahiti, Mexico, Guatemala, and Africa.”

Carol’s Web site is Wise Choice Nursing Consultants FRIO Division.

Unopened vials and cartridges generally should be stored in a refrigerator or kept as cold as possible, but not in a freezer. However, you should not refrigerate insulin (pen) cartridges that you are using.

The manufacturer of Lantus specifies that unopened Lantus vials should be kept between 36°F and 46°F. You can use an open vial for up to 28 days without refrigeration as long as you keep it away from direct heat and light and at a temperature of less than 86°F.

Lilly says that its vials of Humalog and Humulin insulin should be stored in a refrigerator but not frozen. Lilly generally says that you should not refrigerate opened vials and cartridges of its insulins. You do need to keep them below 86°F. You can use them for up to 28 days, if you keep them away from direct light and heat.

Novo has similar instructions for storage of its insulins. Check the prescribing information of the insulin you have to see if there are particular storage instructions.

Five other companies make cold-pack carrying cases for diabetes supplies: Apothecary Products, Atwater Carey, Medicool, MEDport, and Palco Laboratories. Each of them, however, requires refrigeration or freezer packs.

For a complete directory, see “Carrying Cases for Diabetes Supplies” from the Diabetes Forecast “Resource Guide 2003.” For the addresses, phone numbers, and Web sites of most of these and other diabetes products see “Manufacturers and Exclusive Distributors.” Alternatively, if you subscribe to the magazine, the table is on pages 118-119 of the January 2003 issue, and the list of manufacturers and distributors follows on pages 128-131.

When we go on our Russian River vacation, we will make sure to take along our Frio Wallet. We won’t even bother with the refrigerator in the cottage. 

Update

The largest U.S. supplier of Frio products is run by a Patti Murphy Cerami, who has type 1 diabetes, according to a message from H. Garnet Wolsey, the managing director of Frío Cooling Products in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, U.K. Her company is Cooler Concept, her phone is 630-529-FRIO (3746), and her email address is www.coolerconcept.com


This article originally appeared on Mendosa.com July 16, 2003.


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