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Preparing for travel can prevent illness

Experts encourage overseas travelers to seek advice from a health care provider before leaving on a trip, and to make sure recommended vaccinations are up to date (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. De-Juan Haley) Experts encourage overseas travelers to seek advice from a health care provider before leaving on a trip, and to make sure recommended vaccinations are up to date (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. De-Juan Haley)

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Whether snorkeling, hiking, or exploring a new place, travelers should know how to stay safe and healthy while away from home. Properly preparing for a trip can help reduce health risks.

“One might argue that the only thing worse than getting sick is getting sick when away from home,” said Dr. Margaret Ryan, a preventive medicine physician and director of Immunization Health Branch's Pacific Region vaccine safety hub at Naval Medical Center San Diego. “Travelers are wise to take any precautions that are available to avoid infectious disease hazards.”

Ryan recommends travelers be proactive about their travel medicine needs and prepare for their trip in advance. This includes learning about the health risks associated with the destination and checking with their doctor to make sure they’re in good health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seeing a provider four to six weeks before departure.

It’s important for travelers to have recommended vaccinations, including flu shots, before leaving home, said Ryan. According to the CDC, people traveling to countries in the Southern Hemisphere – such as Australia – between June and October should get the flu vaccine since flu activity would be at its peak.

Some vaccines, such as typhoid and hepatitis A, are recommended for travel in general, while others may be required by certain countries before someone is allowed to enter or exit, Ryan noted. For example, the yellow fever vaccine is needed to enter some African countries, and the polio vaccine is required before you depart some countries that have had cases of that disease, she said.

“Risk for exposure to measles, mumps, and rubella outside of the United States can be high, putting travelers without these vaccinations at increased risk, especially in countries with low vaccination rates and recurring regional outbreaks,” said Ryan. International travelers can transport the measles virus, causing infections and possibly triggering outbreaks, even in countries with high vaccination rates, she added.

Ryan also recommends that travelers take precautions with food and water, and take steps to prevent mosquito and insect bites. Using insect repellent and wearing proper clothing in areas with a high risk for mosquito-borne illnesses can reduce the risk of infection. Washing hands often with soap and water is another precautionary measure. The CDC also recommends travelers be aware of food precautions and drink only bottled water or water that has been boiled.

Because such things as scuba diving and visiting high altitudes can affect a traveler’s health and medication needs, Laurie Duran, a nurse practitioner at Naval Medical Center San Diego, recommends that during their pre-travel doctor’s appointment, travelers provide itinerary details, including destinations, anticipated activities, travel dates, accommodations, and mode of travel.

“It is helpful for [health care] providers to have visibility of travelers’ medical history, including their underlying conditions, allergies, and medications, as well as complete immunization records,” added Duran. Special situations such as pregnancy and breast-feeding, immunocompromising conditions or medications, and disabilities can impact travel, she noted.

The CDC’s survival guide for travelers provides health and safety tips, global health notices, and information on specific diseases to watch out for. Planning ahead for illnesses or injuries during the trip, understanding the signs of illness, and knowing what resources are available can help travelers properly prepare. It’s also important to know what your health plan covers when traveling internationally. The TRICARE website has information about international coverage, including what beneficiaries should know before traveling. Additionally, beneficiaries can find information about the MHS Nurse Advice Line, a free, 24/7 phone service, on the MHS NAL website.

“Travel Medicine is actually a complex specialty,” said Ryan. “Travelers are wise to seek advice from an experienced travel medicine provider to discuss all preventive measures before embarking on their trip.”

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