International travel is one of true joys of modern life. Thanks to a massive network of airlines, travel agencies and hospitality companies – all working in tandem on the Internet – even the most exotic of global destinations are only a click, call and print away. However, sometimes the attributes that make these destinations exotic are the same that make them dangerous.
With communicable disease, viruses and ancient infections running rampant in various parts of Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean Islands, a smart traveler knows that the only way to travel safely is by being aware of the diseases prevalent in the areas you’re travelling to and preparing for them.
Preparing For the Trip
Before discussing the various medical procedures and vaccinations recommended for international travel, it’s equally important to understand the more logistical preparations that are necessary for a safe and healthy trip. While these will not apply in every situation, they can most certainly serve as a sufficient guide to any soon-to-be globetrekkers.
- Check Your Medical Coverage – Not all insurance companies will cover individuals who are injured or become ill abroad. It would be wise to consult a customer service assistant to see exactly what financial risk one bears when traveling to different countries.
- Fill Medications – People who take daily medications should ensure they get a special travel refill (usually one or two times the normal supply) to ensure that they always have enough medicines in case of an emergency. It is also recommended that you increase your intake of vitamins and other nutrients, as travel can put undue stress on the body.
- Detailed Research – There is no greater ally in international travel than information. A savvy traveler should always prepare for any trip by studying up on the laws, medical policies, food habits and weather conditions etc of the country, one is planning to travel to.
Immunizations and Vaccinations
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) maintains a very detailed database on communicable diseases that travelers will encounter abroad. It also publishes “The Yellow Book,” a bi-yearly listing of new diseases and viruses and where they can be encountered.
It’s important for travelers to note that while a person is only required to be inoculated against one disease (Yellow Fever), everything from Polio and Tetanus Boosters to diphtheria and measles vaccinations are highly recommended. Many immunizations also have an incubation period before they become 100% effective, so the CDC recommends getting vaccinated four to six weeks before travel.
- Yellow Fever – This disease is common in sub-Saharan Africa and in the more tropical countries of South America. It is usually transmitted by mosquitos. It is a requirement for travelers to be immunized be to allowed to enter into certain countries, and most countries will require a special “Yellow Card” be presented to verify that fact.
- Hepatitis A & B – These vaccinations are recommended for travelers to nearly every area of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. Because there are so many ways in which the disease can be acquired, it’s not uncommon for frequent travelers to keep up a series of boosters just in case.
- Rabies – Travelers who will be spelunking (exploring caves) or spending a large portion of their time outdoors are advised to consider a rabies vaccination. Normally communicated through animal bites, some less developed countries are not well equipped to treat visiting travelers.
- Typhoid – While virtually eradicated in most Western countries, Typhoid is still a huge concern in the less developed countries of Asia, Africa and South America. Most Americans were inoculated as children, but a booster is recommend before international travel.
- Malaria – Usually acquired from infected mosquitoes, gnats or other insects, Malaria is one of the most common diseases encountered by travelers. While there is no way to vaccinate oneself against the disease, there are certain drug regimens and pills that can be taken to help lower the risk of infection.
All in all, international travel has become safer, faster and easier than it’s ever been before, but that doesn’t mean that travelers can ignore the dangers associated with it. And it’s not just out of concern that travelers should take heed; its because one of the main reasons CDC has developed these warnings is to ensure that travelers do not bring foreign diseases back home with them.
So travel safely, but more importantly, travel smart. Be sure to take all the precautions necessary to prepare oneself for a healthy trip abroad.
Dorothy Wheaton, PA-C, works with Careworks Health Clinics. Careworks runs walk-in clinics and after-hours clinics offering immediate medical treatment in addition to urgent care centers that provide treatment for acute illnesses and minor injuries.