In 1990, when just 4% of people in the United States held valid passports, few Americans knew firsthand just how intriguing, energizing, and transformative international travel could be.
Fast forward three short decades, and more Americans are crossing borders than ever before — today, over 40% of U.S. citizens carry valid passports, and wanderlust has transformed a nation of homebodies into a nation of global explorers.
While nothing broadens your horizons quite like international travel, visiting other countries can expose you to a range of health risks you wouldn’t necessarily encounter at home. Luckily, a bit of research, planning, and common sense is often all it takes to protect your health when you’re abroad. Here’s what you should know.
Before you go
Staying healthy when you’re far from home is all about prevention, and prevention starts with the right information. As soon as you’ve decided to travel abroad — and ideally at least six to eight weeks before your scheduled departure — you should:
The first stop on any well-planned global journey is a virtual one. No matter how familiar or unexotic your destination may seem, you’ll want to visit a website that provides current and comprehensive health information on the country (and when pertinent, the particular region) to which you’re heading.
Excellent online resources for international travelers include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.Department of State, and the World Health Organization.
On top of finding up-to-date travel notices, safety information, and news on recent disease outbreaks, you can learn about recommended travel immunizations, insect and animal risks, food and beverage precautions, and the availability of emergency medical care.
Visit a travel medicine specialist
International travel is a great way to experience new cultures and landscapes, but it can also increase your risk of contracting a serious infectious disease or foodborne pathogenic illness that doesn’t exist back home.
A travel medicine specialist can prepare you for the unique pathogens you may encounter during your travels. Here at Downtown Medical Group, we offer a full scope of travel care services designed to keep you healthy when you’re far from home.
Besides making sure you’ve had your flu shot and you’re current on standard recommended immunizations like the Tdap vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, we provide travel vaccinations to protect you from destination-specific diseases like yellow fever, Hepatitis A, or typhoid fever.
Because we keep tabs on vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks across the globe, we can also let you know if you need additional immunizations, like the measles vaccine, to safeguard your health.
If you’re heading to a country where malaria is a concern, taking a full course of antimalarial drugs before you travel — and carrying an emergency supply of antimalarial tablets in your luggage — can protect you against this potentially deadly tropical disease, which is spread by mosquitoes.
With our convenient on-site pharmacy, you can rest assured that we always have the latest and most effective antimalarial medications available. We also carry other preventive medications for international travelers, including drugs that help reduce the severity of traveler’s diarrhea, a common malady caused by consuming contaminated food or water.
Check your health insurance
Even if you don’t plan to use medical services while you’re abroad, unexpected injury and illness can happen anywhere — check with your health insurance provider to find out what kind of coverage, if any, your policy provides in the country you’ll be visiting.
If you have little to no international coverage from your existing policy, you may want to buy supplemental travel medical insurance that covers any health care you may require. If you’re going to a country or region where quality medical care is lacking, evacuation insurance will cover the cost of transporting you to the closest medical facility.
Pack a health and safety kit
Make room in your luggage for a health and safety kit that includes essential first aid items like pain medication, bandages, antiseptic wipes, and a thermometer. Depending on where you’re going and what you plan to do while you’re there, you may also need to pack sunscreen, insect repellent, and a mosquito net.
If there’s any chance you’ll be sexually active with a local person during your trip, you should also bring condoms to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
While you’re away
Experiencing another culture can have a kind of liberating “when in Rome” effect that makes many travelers forget common sense precautions. But even if the locals don’t practice healthy hygiene habits, wear helmets, or use seatbelts, you should.
When you’re far from home, it’s more important than ever to be aware of your surroundings, avoid stray animals, wash your hands frequently, watch what you eat and drink, and always wear a seatbelt when traveling by car, even if it’s a taxi.
After you return
If you experience lingering gastrointestinal issues after a trip abroad, or if you develop a high fever within a month of returning from an area where malaria is present, come see us right away so we can diagnose the problem and get you the treatment you need.
To learn more about the travel care services available at Downtown Medical Group, call our San Francisco office today, or click online to schedule an appointment with one of our travel medicine experts any time.