International travel is an exciting prospect, especially if you are visiting a place you have never been before. However, there are health issues that may be present in some foreign destinations that we do not commonly face in the United States. For that reason, it is essential to seek pre-travel health advice from a physician who is an infectious disease specialist in order to ensure that you take all necessary medical preparations before your trip.
The more information you can provide your doctor with about the specifics of your destinations, the better your chances are of remaining healthy during the trip.
Specifics about your travel should include:
- all of the cities or villages you will be visiting in a particular country
- any planned excursions taking place within the trip
- the length of the visit
- the type of accommodations or lodging
- means of travel
- activities in which you expect to participate
- time of year, since certain diseases are more prevalent during rainy season or hot weather
Armed with knowledge, your physician can tailor a prophylactic medical plan designed to protect you from known health-related concerns in your region of travel.
Some foreign destinations require more precautions than others. It is ideal to have an initial consultation with your doctor four to six weeks before your travel is scheduled to occur. This will provide enough time to receive any necessary immunizations or medications as well as documentation of these if necessary to the travel. Your doctor can also offer instructions for the prevention and treatment of illnesses common to travelers to the location you are visiting, such as diarrhea and conditions spread by insect bites.
By checking your medical history, your doctor can determine whether you are up-to-date on all routine vaccinations, such as polio and measles/mumps/rubella, which should be current before traveling to a country in which these diseases may be communicable. Depending upon the destination you are visiting, other immunizations might be recommended as well. For certain countries where malaria is present, pre-treatment with anti-malarial medications can be very helpful in preventing infection.
The most frequently occurring malady among visitors to other nations is traveler’s diarrhea. Caused by exposure to bacteria, viruses or parasites, this illness is especially common for visitors to less developed countries. Loose stools are often accompanied by fever, nausea, cramps and/or vomiting. Many patients with traveler’s diarrhea are forced to spend several days in during the trip because they are too sick to participate in normal activities.
Your doctor can give you specific information for avoiding traveler’s diarrhea based on the destination you will be visiting. In general, though, safety precautions include eating only fruits and vegetables you can peel yourself, opting for dry food items and consuming only cooked foods that are served thoroughly cooked and very hot. Stay away from tap water, juices, ice cubes, salads, unpasteurized dairy products and any reheated food.
You cannot be vaccinated against traveler’s diarrhea and prophylactic prescription drugs are rarely necessary. Hydration is important if you do acquire this illness and your doctor can recommend which over-the-counter medications are most effective so you can bring them with you as a precaution.
There are numerous diseases that can be transmitted by an insect bite during a foreign trip. They are often serious illnesses, including malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and tick-borne encephalitis. Insect repellent is typically the most effective method of prevention for the majority of these conditions. Use a repellent containing Diethyltoluamide (deet) in a 30 percent concentration for adults and a 10 percent concentration for children to receive the maximum protection safely. Apply it directly to exposed skin, but wash it off as soon as your risk of exposure to insects has decreased. In addition, clothing and bed-netting treated with permethrin can help you avoid getting bitten by an insect.
After the Trip
Prior to the journey, your physician will provide you with information on symptoms of many travel-related illnesses to help make you aware of whether to seek medical assistance during or after the trip. If you return home and you are not feeling well, it is essential to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Some of the diseases prevalent in foreign countries have longer incubation periods with no signs showing up until days, weeks or even months after the travel has ended.