Planning a trip outside the United States? Along with scouting online for transportation, accommodations, and sightseeing suggestions, travelers should allot time on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) website.
Easily navigable, the site's drop-down menus feature vaccination requirements for both types of travelers (i.e. students, missionaries, families traveling with children) and worldwide destinations. Additionally, alerts provide up-to-date reports of countries with outbreaks of diseases, like Zika virus.
Right off the bat, the CDC recommends travelers schedule a visit to a travel doctor four to six weeks before their trip departure. There are caveats, though, like needing a series of timed vaccinations. To gain further insight, we went straight to a source, a Los Angeles-based "travel doc," Carla Blieden, PharmD, MPH of Travelwise Vaccination Services.
Tokio Marine HCC — MIS Group: There's nothing worse than having all the elements for a perfect trip come together, only to discover you don't have the proper vaccinations and paperwork to enter the country to which you're traveling. What's the ideal way to time pre-travel vaccinations?
Blieden: Though there are some vaccinations that only require being completed two weeks prior to travel, it's best to assume you'll need six weeks.
There are several vaccinations, including Hepatitis B, Rabies, and Japanese Encephalitis, that are part of a series, requiring more than one dose prior to travel, with typically one month in between doses.
Then, there's Hepatitis A, which is also part of a series. The first dose of that vaccination will protect for a year, so just one of the two doses is needed prior to travel.
Tokio Marine HCC — MIS Group: Adhesive bandages, antihistamines, topical antibiotics; there are so many over-the-counter products that are good to have on hand in case of getting sick while on the road. What must-haves do you advocate for travelers' first aid kits?
Blieden: A small first-aid kit is always a good idea. For travelers' diarrhea, I suggest packing Pepto-Bismol, known as bismuth subsalicylate, and Imodium, known as Loperamide.
If you're traveling to a destination where there are mosquitoes, DEET 25-50% is recommended.
Additionally, Permethrin, an added level of protection against bug bites, can be purchased before travel and sprayed on clothing prior to packing.
Interested in additional ways to stay healthy while traveling?
Tokio Marine HCC — MIS Group: Are there certain precautions travelers should take when it comes to packing prescription medications?
Blieden: Travel with medications in the original and labeled bottles.
If you receive your prescription medications as a three-month supply, only take what you will need for the amount of days you are away, plus a few extra in case of a long layover or unexpected itinerary change.
If you'll be out of the country for longer than one month, or will need an early refill of your prescription medications, have your pharmacy call your insurance company for a vacation override for your billing cycle.
Tokio Marine HCC — MIS Group: Are there any general safety/health tips to keep in mind while visiting another country?
Blieden: Selection of food and water should always be researched in advance. In terms of water, a bottled variety is recommended for travelers.
Many travelers choose to drink only carbonated beverages while dining abroad so they know the bottle is new, versus flat water that may have been refilled in the back of the restaurant.
Of course, there are some countries where tap water is perfectly safe to drink, so do your research beforehand.
Fruits that can be peeled are safer than those that can't be peeled. Some additional things to consider are the irrigation sources of fruits and vegetables, their method of shipping, and how they were washed before being served.
Reputable restaurants or restaurants in the larger hotels can be a good idea for the less adventurous eaters. For travelers who like to eat from street vendors or experience the local flavor and culture in certain countries (see the CDC website), I strongly recommend getting a typhoid vaccination.
Consider Travel Medical Insurance
Armed with information from the CDC and travel doctors, like Blieden, global travelers can head off potential health issues at the pass.
And though travel medical insurance doesn't cover vaccinations prior to a trip, in many cases, prescriptions needed as a result of illness or injury during travel outside of the country will be included in coverage.
Another tip: Pack travel medical insurance information in with a first-aid kit, as well as giving a copy to an emergency contact at home and the trip's tour guide.