International Travel and Your Health
Staying healthy while you travel is something you should consider in advance so that you can identify your risks and plan for vaccinations, take preventive measures to stay healthy, and take the appropriate medications with you in case you experience illness or an injury.
Other countries may have different germs or health risks than you might be exposed to compared to those found in the United States. For that reason, some travelers need to consider what vaccinations are necessary when visiting another region. Depending on the vaccination, a single booster may be needed, or even a series. Plan on checking the requirements or vaccines that are recommended by going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov. You will note the country of your destination, and also what type of places you will visit. Here are a few things to consider:
- Where are you going?
- Where will you stay? A hotel? A remote village? Near water?
- How long will you be gone?
- Will you be exposed to animals such as dogs? bats?
- What vaccinations have you already received, and can you provide a record of them?
- What activities will you be involved in?
If you need vaccinations, make an appointment with your healthcare provider several months before the travel if possible. This is in case a series of vaccines is necessary, such as Hepatitis A. If you are visiting a region that may expose you to malaria, your healthcare provider will need to know the details of where you are visiting since the anti-malarial medication will need to be matched to that region for it to be effective. Some treatments to prevent malaria are started BEFORE you leave, continued during your travel, and are finished when you return home. Therefore, the healthcare provider will need to know how long you are gone. Wearing long-sleeves with pants and using DEET products to avoid mosquito bites are also key defenses against malaria.
In preparation for your travel consider the medications that you take, and the need for a refill to last during your time away from home. If you need to carry medical equipment on a plane, or take insulin, you may need a letter from the healthcare provider stating that this is a necessity.
The CDC website also offers a checklist of things you might want to pack for your trip. For instance, many pack a pain reliever, antacids, anti-diarrheals and medication in case of allergy-type symptoms. Motion sickness medication may also be helpful. A small first aid kit with bandaids, moleskin (in case of blisters), and a first aid ointment should also be considered.
During air travel it is important to consider the risks of a long flight. To avoid blood clots from forming in the legs it is wise to get up and walk every hour. Some may also benefit from wearing compression stockings. Jet lag is a risk, especially for those flying west to east and crossing five or more time zones. Some feel that melatonin is helpful, but first check with your health provider for the correct dose to use. Good handwashing and avoiding touching of the mouth, eyes and nose will also reduce your changes of becoming ill due to viruses and other illnesses during your travel. Use of a decongestant may also help with pain caused by pressure changes in the ear during the ascent and descent. Chewing gum is also helpful to equalize the pressure within the ear during air travel.
During your visit, stay away from animals since there may be a risk of rabies or other diseases. Dogs, bats, monkeys and other wild animals can be carriers of diseases, so be aware of this during your stay.
Some vaccines are recommended, but may not be needed for your particular travel. An example is that several regions list Hepatitis B vaccines as a recommended vaccine. However, hepatitis B is transmitted through blood, dirty needles and unprotected sex, so usually this is not needed. Not all vaccines are available at your primary care health providers office, and for this reason you may be referred to an office that is a specific provider for travel medicine. If you are traveling for work, see if your employer will cover the cost of the vaccinations. Keep all records of vaccines for future reference.
Unfortunately, some regions of the world have civil unrest creating threats to your safety in which you need urgent evacuation. Check with travel insurance companies (such as SOS) on this matter. You may also consider how you would handle a medical emergency or where to go should you need to seek medical care while traveling.
Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, staying healthy starts with planning your trip. Awareness of risks and strategies to stay healthy during your time away are equally important.