Travel adventures are supposed to take place on the streets of Paris, not in the narrows of your intestinal tract! Ensuring that your trip abroad is safe, healthy, and fun falls under the umbrella of “travel medicine.” This medical speciality can help you anticipate health hazards and avoid potential unwanted complications when injury or illness cause your vacation to take a turn.
Dr. Ingrid Liu at Progressive Health Primary Care has an interest in travel and travel medicine. She takes into consideration any chronic medical conditions and medication interactions when providing travel consultations.
What is Travel Medicine?
Known technically as “emporiatrics,” travel medicine is the branch of medicine that specializes in preventing and treating conditions which may occur while you are traveling. This could include everything from bacteria and viruses you may catch to physical injuries or allergic reactions sustained during your trip.
Because healthcare systems vary so widely from nation to nation (even from state to state here in the U.S.), there are certain risks associated with travel. Travel medicine is designed to minimize those risks where possible.
Some of the issues you could face when traveling include:
- Disease: Different areas of the world will have epidemic or seasonal disease outbreaks, so travel medicine and infectious disease often go hand in hand. Travelers should be aware of localized epidemics, such as Zika Virus or Yellow Fever. Additionally, diarrhea is incredibly common among travelers worldwide. But the right preventative approach can make contracting many diseases significantly less likely.
- Treated conditions: It’s important to know how your current treated conditions may be impacted by traveling, access to medication, and more. This could include everything from medications for mental health to prescriptions for high blood pressure. Some medications may be difficult to get overseas, depending on where you’re traveling.
- Injury: Broken bones and sprained ankles can still happen when you’re on vacation. If you become injured while traveling, you’ll want to make sure that you get the right kind of care. This can be especially important if you have any pre-existing conditions which impact your care.
Different parts of the world could also be home to unique parasites or toxic wildlife. So there are plenty of challenges your otherwise healthy body may encounter while abroad.
A stomach bug on your vacation can be rotten luck. But some infections and conditions can be extremely serious, especially if you’re far from home and the doctors you’re familiar with. Talking to your physician about travel medicine can literally save your life.
What to Do Before Your Trip
There are several steps every traveler should take before their trip begins. Some of the most important include:
- Get Vaccinated: Ensuring your immunizations are up to date is perhaps the single most important thing you can do before traveling abroad. Travel medicine and vaccination are often thought of in the same breath! Vaccines for malaria and Yellow Fever, for example, can keep you protected in areas that may be hot spots. Talk to Dr. Liu about your travel destinations and what vaccines you should consider. You should also check with the individual country you’re visiting, as they may have vaccine requirements (this is especially true when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations).
- Research: Every area of the world is going to have its own unique health challenges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will often provide travel bulletins and alerts for areas where travelers should be particularly cautious or there are known concerns. Also consider your activities while abroad: SCUBA diving or high-altitude climbing, for example, could pose additional health challenges–and it’s useful to know how to better prepare your body for those challenges before you leave.
- Fill your prescriptions: You don’t want to run out of necessary prescriptions while you’re on your trip! In some cases, your pharmacy may be able to ship a refill to you. But that depends on where you are and access to mail. It’s better to ensure you have enough of what you need before you go.
- Purchase Travel Insurance: Because every nation has its own healthcare system, it’s likely that your health insurance will not be valid when you’re traveling (although every insurance carrier is different, so you could always double check). If you do become ill or injured, traveler’s insurance can help prevent a big bill to go along with your big headache.
- Put together a travel medicine kit: A travel medicine kit can contain a number of items, but it should always be easy to carry. Think of it as a kind of international first aid kit. You can find ideas about what to put in your travel medicine kit here, but generally they should contain medicines you take on a regular basis, antihistamines for allergic reactions, and general first aid supplies.
- Plan Ahead: Ideally, you’ll want to see Dr. Liu at least 4-6 weeks before your trip is scheduled. This will give your vaccines plenty of time to provide immunity.
What to Do While on Your Trip
To decrease risks and improve your chances of a fun and healthy trip, you should consider doing the following:
- Wash your hands frequently. This will help mitigate the spread of germs and could prevent you from getting sick. Remember to follow proper handwashing techniques and scrub for at least 30 seconds.
- Use a facemask while flying. The use of a face mask can significantly cut down on disease transmission. Wear a facemask when mandated, when things get crowded, or there’s a significant amount of fog.
- Get plenty of sleep. Travel and exhaustion can compromise your immune system. Try to maintain a normal sleeping habit while you’re traveling so your immune system can do its part to keep you healthy.
- Make sure you can access your passport and medical information. In some cases, you may want to make sure your medical history or allergy information is easily accessible.
What to Do After Your Trip
Once you get home, you’ll want to do the following:
- Self-isolate: In all likelihood, you’ll return from your trip as healthy as ever! But depending on your region of travel, you may want to spend some time in isolation (in other words, don’t leave home) for 3-5 days in case any symptoms develop.
- See your doctor: This is especially true if you’ve been traveling anywhere in which parasites or disease outbreaks are particularly common. And it’s doubly true if you begin to experience any symptoms of illness.
- Requisition your medical records: if you were treated for any illnesses or injuries abroad, contact those medical providers and try to get a copy of your medical records.
The Hub for Your Travel Medicine Needs
Progressive Health Primary Care provides travel consultations to help you get ready for upcoming trips. Dr. Liu can help you determine which vaccines you’ll need and make sure you’re equipped with all the medical information you may require before and after your trip. For patients who become members of our practice, travel consultations and office visits are included in their monthly membership dues.
It’s important to note that one of the best ways to stay healthy when traveling abroad is to be prepared. Ensure you get fully vaccinated and give your body time to build up the necessary immunity. Dr. Liu will be able to help you determine which steps you should take before you begin your travels.