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Planning a trip outside the U.S.? Don’t forget to visit CDC website

Tue., Jan. 18, 2011, midnight

Daydreaming about a warm, sunny vacation yet? Going on an overseas business trip? Perhaps planning to do charity work in a foreign country?

Sunny destinations closer to the equator can mean added risks and more planning before you travel.

One of your first destinations should be the Traveler’s Health section of the Centers for Disease Control website (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/).

You can find information on travel notices, recommended vaccines, packing, what to do and who to contact if you do get sick or injured while traveling, and much more.

Before my husband and I went on an aid trip to El Salvador after Hurricane Mitch in 1999, he had to get hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines (I had them previously) and we both updated our typhoid, flu and tetanus vaccinations.

It is best to get vaccinations updated four to six weeks before leaving. Even if you can’t make it that far in advance, it is still worth getting them done.

For our aid trips to the Dominican Republic and Indonesia, we took malaria prophylaxis medications.

When traveling someplace where catching malaria is possible, taking your anti-malarial medication as prescribed before, during and after your trip is crucial. We sometimes see people very sick with malaria just because they did not finish the medication.

The side effects of anti-malarial medication can be unpleasant, such as upset stomach or sun sensitivity, but at best malaria is unpleasant and at worst it is deadly.

Also use insect repellent, wear clothing that helps protect you from mosquitoes and sleep in well-screened areas or under a bed net.

Check your health insurance coverage. You may need additional insurance for your trip. You can even purchase insurance to pay for medical evacuation in an emergency.

Not all countries have drinkable tap water. When you are in a place where it is not drinkable, also brush your teeth and wash your face with bottled water.

In these places, avoid ice in your drinks, do not eat raw fruits and vegetables (unless you peel them yourself) and, as always, only eat meat that is well cooked.

Be sensible when doing risky activities, just like you are at home. Wear a helmet to ride a bicycle or motorcycle, rock climb, ride horses or participate in similar sports.

If you hire a guide, make sure they meet safety certifications applicable for the country.

For jet lag, either while traveling or when coming home, I get out into the sunshine every day, especially in the mornings, and take melatonin every afternoon.

Depending on where you are going, nonprescription medications may be hard to buy. Besides packing my usual medications and new medications for the trip (such as anti-malarials and antibiotics), I always pack anti-diarrheal, antihistamine, analgesic, antacid and cold medicines along with topical antifungal, antibacterial and anti-itch ointments.

Powdered oral rehydration packets are also useful in case of diarrhea.

Pack a list of all prescriptions along with all your medications in your carry-on bag and put a second list in your checked luggage.

When going someplace truly remote or prone to civil unrest or natural disasters, it’s a good idea to pack more serious first-aid supplies and register travel and emergency contact information with the U.S. Department of State ( https://travelregistration. state.gov/).

The one time I have been seriously affected with an infectious illness while traveling was in Europe. Fortunately, there was medical care readily accessible and affordable.

Even after all the careful planning and smart traveling you may feel unwell on your trip. Do not hesitate to see a doctor; you can contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country you are visiting for a list of physicians and medical facilities.

If you feel sick when you arrive home or shortly thereafter, see your health care provider and mention where you were traveling, in case you brought some unwanted souvenir home.

Whether you are traveling in a low-risk area (stable countries with easily accessible medical care) or a higher-risk one (prone to unrest, infectious diseases, natural disasters or few medical facilities), planning can help ensure the best experience possible.

So now that I have you completely freaked out about traveling abroad, pack your bags and have a great time!

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical

 

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