November 22, 2017
International Travel Checklist: What Meds, What Vaccines?

International Travel Checklist: What Meds, What Vaccines?

by Amanda Z. Naprawa  

Whether it’s a honeymoon, a volunteer trip, an adventure trek, or just a getaway to a warm beach, travel to another country is fun and exciting. But it also carries potential health risks that you should be aware of and prepared for. These precautions can help you protect yourself and prevent your long-sought vacation from ending in illness.

Choose your destination wisely

Before you buy your plane tickets and pack your bags, take notice of any travel warnings that may be affecting your desired destination. The CDC website maintains up-to-date information on potential health risks that may be present in a given country. You can search by country and by the type of traveler you are(for instance, if are you are traveling with young children or have special needs). By looking at the site before making travel plans, you can make sure you are not choosing an area that is currently experiencing an outbreak or other health threat.

For women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant, for example, travel to the tropical and subtropical zones of the Western Hemisphere is generally out for now because of Zika virus. The virus is transmitted primarily via mosquito, although sexual transmission is also possible, as is transmission by blood transfusions; researchers are also studying whether it could spread through saliva. Zika is responsible for a significant increase in the incidence of a serious birth defect known as microcephaly—heads that are too small, with accompanying brain development problems—among women in Brazil. For this reason, the CDC has issued warningsurging pregnant women to avoid travel to areas where Zika virus is occurring.

See Can Birth Defects from Zika Be Prevented?

Before you go

The CDC recommends vaccination and other preventive measures for travel to certain countries. Before you take off on an exotic trip to Belize, for instance, it is recommended that in addition to your routine vaccinations, travelers also get vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid, both of which can be spread through contaminated food and water. If you are planning to visit parts of Haiti, the CDC recommends taking malaria medication before, during, and after travel.

In addition, some countries require proof of vaccination for certain diseases, namely yellow fever. Make sure you are up to date on the necessary vaccinations and that you have proof of immunization with you if traveling to one of these countries.

While you are traveling

Prevention before you travel is just part of the program. When you are traveling, you should also be aware of the different health threats you may face, particularly from insects. Malaria, spread through the bite of the Anopheles mosquito, is endemic—meaning it is constantly present—in many countries. If you are traveling to a malaria-endemic country, you will likely be advised to use antimalarial medication. You should obtain this well before you travel and carefully follow the directions (called chemoprophylaxis). Most cases of travelers getting malaria are associated with not using chemoprophylaxis. In addition, pack (and use) an effective insect repellent, avoid being outside during peak mosquito activity time, wear long sleeves and long pants, and sleep with a mosquito net unless you are in an air-conditioned, sealed building. Similar precautions should be taken to prevent other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, and Zika, as well as to guard against other insects such as ticks.

See How to Prevent Mosquito Bites.

You may also want to consider purchasing travel health insurance specifically for your trip. Your own health insurance may not cover you in foreign countries, or you may end up with significant out-of-pocket expenses. For travel to certain areas with a lack of medical facilities, you may also want to consider medical evacuation insurance—this will pay for the cost of transporting you to a place with appropriate facilities if you’re in need of serious medical attention.

Bottom line: Travel to different and exotic places is exciting and can provide wonderful educational and cultural experiences. By being prepared for the potential health risks of travel to certain areas, you can make sure that your adventure vacation is memorable for only the right reasons.

Also see 8 Ways to Avoid Foodborne Illness When Traveling.