During the cold days of winter, many of us turn our thoughts to planning a vacation, either at home or abroad. While making these plans, it is important to take steps to protect your health while you are away from home.
What immunizations do I need before traveling abroad?
Recommendations and requirements vary by location, duration of stay, and trip activities. Many short-term travelers to more developed countries will not need additional vaccinations, as long as their standard recommended shots are up to date. The Centers for Disease Control’s Web site, www.cdc.gov/travel, is a good place to start for general recommendations.
Hepatitis A and typhoid are the most commonly recommended travel vaccines. Yellow fever vaccine is required for travel to certain countries, including many in South America and Africa. Talking with your healthcare provider familiar with travel risks will provide you with customized recommendations based on your individual health situation and trip.
Because there currently is no effective vaccine for malaria, prevention relies on taking anti-
malarial medications while in the risk area and for several days following your return.
What if I have a chronic illness?
Anyone with a chronic illness that requires close monitoring, such as people with diabetes or on blood thinners, should check with their physician on how to adapt treatment and monitoring in a new location. Consider carrying a letter from your healthcare provider if you need to travel with syringes or other personal medical supplies.
Those with immune problems, lung disease, or blood disorders are particularly prone to certain travel-related problems, including altitude sickness, and should plan accordingly.
While not everyone should buy additional medical insurance, check to see if your current insurance includes medical coverage and assistance in your destination countries.
People with serious chronic illnesses, those traveling alone, and those going to areas with few medical facilities should consider additional coverage if their current policy is limited. Questions to consider: does the policy cover all care (or just emergencies), does the policy offer assistance in obtaining care, and is medical evacuation covered?
SCOTT PRINCE, M.D., is an associate professor at the University of Kentucky Department of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health and the College of Public Health.