Medical precautions to take before traveling abroad
Whether traveling for business or hiking in the rainforest, all travelers should read up on the latest health threats at their destination — and see a doctor.
Travelers are not always clear about what medical precautions to take before visiting a foreign country. “People think that there is sort of a one size fits all inoculation that will cover their bases, but there isn’t,” says Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Emory University, and consultant to the Center for Disease Control. “If you’re a corporate person going to Bangkok and staying in a five star hotel, you have a totally different risk profile than someone going to volunteer in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border.”
Before Your Trip
Dr. Kozarsky suggests talking with your primary care physician about your medical history, specifically if you have a compromised immune system or are unsure about your vaccination history. Infections like measles and chicken pox are still prevalent and untreated throughout most of the world. Tell your doctor what kind of activities you have planned — a boat trip down the Mekong River will warrant more precautions than spa days in Tokyo.
The CDC’s web site, provides a comprehensive list of countries and the precautions or elevated risks of each place. Dr. Kozarsky recommends consulting the website, but again stresses that travellers may not need the same inoculations or medicines in Northern India that they would in the South. Infectious disease hot spots rarely apply to an entire country. Where avian flu is concerned, she suggests being practical and avoiding poultry markets. And though some reports suggest that the Zika Virus is not pandemic in Asia as it is in the Americas, the areas of concern are growing. Pregnant women should stock up on insect repellent and wear clothing that covers their entire body.
Plan to see your doctor four to six weeks before departure to discuss the length of stay and the areas you plan to visit. Make sure you’re up to date on routine vaccines, such as measles-mumps-rubbella (MMR), diphtheria-teanus-pertussis, chickenpox, polio, and the annual flu shot.
Travel vaccines and medications may be necessary depending on where you’re traveling. Hepatitis A and typhoid can be contracted via contaminated food or water, especially when staying in rural areas, but can be prevented with vaccines. Consult with your doctor.
Malaria continues to be a threat in many parts of Africa and Asia and can be prevented with a prescription medication taken before and during your trip. Avoid mosquito bites and wear insect repellent with DDT if you’re planning to spend a lot of time outdoors or sleeping outside. While cholera is rare, it is a risk in certain parts of Africa, India, Myanmar, and Thailand.