Protecting Your Health When Traveling Abroad

To stave off potential health risks when traveling, take the following steps.


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Nowadays, anyone can Google great options for destinations, dining and digs. While venturing out into new lands and parts unknown is indeed exciting, the details can be daunting. The aim of this column is to eliminate the trepidation of planning that trip and anticipating what you might encounter along the way, covering the incidentals surrounding where, when, and how, before you click “book.”

Safe and joyful journeys to you!

“Not All Those That Wander Are Lost”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Whether you are cruising to ports around the Caribbean, beaching in Mexico, or safari’ing in South Africa, journeying to a foreign country is beyond exciting. Beyond, because, well, along with all of the exotic sights, sounds, aromas and flavors, often come exotic ailments and unexpected encounters. To stave off potential health risks, scary symptoms, dangerous incidents, natural disasters, and lost passports, take the following steps:

1. Register with STEP, the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service that registers American citizens with local U.S. embassies in the country where they are traveling. Travelers then receive alerts on safety conditions, civil unrest, large-scale disease outbreaks, inclement weather, and be accounted for in the event of a disaster.

2. Visit a Travel Health Clinic

From Hepatitis A to Zika, local germs are not the indigenous offerings travelers anticipate sampling when abroad. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends that American travelers consult their website for the most updated information about health risks and disease outbreaks around the world. As soon as you book your trip, they suggest the following:

  • Make an appointment with a Travel Health Specialist or one of CDC’s designated Travel Clinics, which will identify and schedule recommended inoculations and medications to bring.
  • Call the clinic as soon as you know your travel dates, and they will advise you as to when you need to schedule your visit. This is critical, as some vaccines, such as Hepatitis A, require multiple doses spaced months apart.
  • To prepare for the visit, bring the following with information:
    • Time of year of your visit
    • Each destination you will be visiting
    • Planned activities
    • Your medical history
    • Current medications you are taking
    • History of your routine vaccines including tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, influenza, and measles
  • If you have been sick or suddenly get sick before the trip, consult with a doctor to discuss the implications and risks. You might ask your doctor to write you a prescription to bring along as a precaution in the event of a recurrence.
  • Make sure you have an exit strategy. No matter how careful you are, stuff happens. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the resources available in your travel destination: hospitals, pharmacies, as well as transportation systems: train stations and the airlines that serve the region. It is advisable that your travel insurance coverage include assistance in getting you home as efficiently as possible in the event of an injury or serious illness. Some credit card companies automatically provide this service for their cardholders.

3. Prepare a Personal Travel Medicine Chest

After arming yourself with preventatives and inoculations, it is equally important to bring along medications to alleviate symptoms you might encounter along your journey. Here is a list of suggested take-alongs for your suitcase medicine chest:

  • Baby aspirin: Travelers on long haul flights who stay put in their seats risk a blood clot condition, which occurs from sitting in one position for an extended period. Getting up every hour or two is advisable, but many doctors recommend ingesting a baby aspirin before long flights.
  • Motion sickness meds: Sea-Bands and Dramamine (both over-the-counter) or Transderm Scop (patch behind the ear; prescription needed) can all help with motion sickness. Experiment to see which one works best for you.
  • Snooze meds: Prescription Ambien or over-the-counter Dramamine are most popular, but many are switching to the OTC version of melatonin, a hormone naturally secreted by your body.
  • Decongestants: Sinus meds like Sudafed and nasal sprays reduce fluid and mucus build up, which causes stuffy ears and sinuses. Naturalists prefer to simply use a saline spray.
  • Pain relievers: ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen – bring which one works for you.
  • Allergy remedies: Claritin and ZYRTEC are popular choices.
  • Diarrhea medicine: Loperamide, Lomotil or Imodium, and an antibiotic if risk is moderate to high.
  • Hand sanitizer: Objects with which you come into everyday contact — doorknobs, light switches, TV remotes, even cash — can all be transmitters of viruses and bacteria. And frequent hand washing does wonders.
  • Toothbrush cover and extra toothbrushes.

To locate reliable travel medicine clinics while you are abroad, check out those recommended by the International Society of Travel Medicine.

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