Now that school is out and we’re easing our way into summer, there’s a good chance travel plans are in your future. Whether you’re staying in Texas or traveling to Malaysia, give yourself and your family peace of mind. Being well prepared for your trip means more than remembering to take your walking shoes and camera. It’s even more important to be medically prepared for anything that your vacation throws at you while you’re away. Children are especially susceptible to illness when traveling, so make sure your pediatrician is aware if they are leaving the country.
Not everywhere you travel is going to have as low a risk factor as the United States when it comes to diseases. Many places require immunizations for travel, and these immunizations are put in place to protect you and your family. Kelsey-Seybold has 13 travel medicine clinics to provide pre-travel counseling, vaccinations, prescriptions and detailed health advice for travelers.
There are three types of immunizations: routine, recommended and required. Routine immunizations include diphtheria and tetanus, and should be taken every 10 years, even if you don’t have plans to travel. A few required immunizations (when traveling to specific countries) are yellow fever and meningococcal immunizations. Some countries will require proof of these shots before you enter their borders. Recommended immunizations will depend on where you’re traveling, what you plan on doing when you’re there and your current health status. Your doctor will be able to tell you what immunizations will be best to take depending on these factors. Some of those recommended immunizations may be hepatitis A and B, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, measles, mumps, rubella or poliomyelitis.
Schedule an appointment with your physician to make sure you have taken the proper immunizations before you leave the country. Because some vaccines may take up to a month to become fully effective, and others require a series of injections, it’s recommended that you be vaccinated four to six weeks before you travel – so don’t wait to the last minute!
Pack a Travel Medicine Kit
Your vacation will likely go smoothly, but there is always a chance that illness or accident could set you back, so it’s important that you’re ready to handle these minor setbacks. An easy way to do that is to pack a travel medicine kit. Here’s what I keep in mine:
- Ace bandages
- Anti-diarrheal caplets
- Bismatrol chewable tablets
- Lip balm
- Curad adhesive bandages
- Dentemp O.S. (repairs loose fillings and loose caps)
- Eye wash
- First aid tape
- Foille medicated first aid ointment
- Gas relief soft gels
- Gentle laxative
- Cough drops
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Gauze pads
- Antihistamine tablets
- Motion sickness tablets
- Nasal decongestant (12-Hour)
- Nasal decongestant (maximum strength)
- Allergy medication
- Triple antibiotic ointment
- Tums extra strength
- Acetaminophen extra strength
- Antibacterial wipes
Know the Risks Where You Are Going
Each country has varying rates of instances of disease. Before you go, make sure you know what you’re up against.
Your doctor may recommend that you not drink tap water from specific countries, or even eat vegetables rinsed in tap water. They may tell you to avoid specific areas or bodies of water in different countries. Again, this is why it is important to consult with your doctor at least a month before you leave.
It’s also important to keep in mind your method of travel. Will you be in close quarters on a plane? Try to boost your immune system with some vitamin C in the weeks prior to travel. Consult with your doctor before you leave to determine whether you’re at risk for blood clots. Prepare for air sickness by not eating a heavy meal, limiting alcohol consumption and trying to choose a seat over the wings (as these will move less and allow you to focus your vision on a fixed object in the distance).
If you’re traveling by car, plan to make frequent stops so you’re able to stay alert.
Lastly, if you live in the United States but are traveling back to your country of origin, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re still protected against local diseases. If you have lived in the U.S. for more than a few years, your immunity to infectious diseases in your home country has likely lapsed and immunizations can help keep you well during your visit – so get vaccinated before you go!
If you have additional travel questions, I find that these websites are often good resources to consult before visiting with your physician:
Dr. Puja Sehgal is a board-certified Family Medicine physician. She works with patients to give them knowledge regarding prevention and management of illness. She develops relationships with her patients by customizing their treatment based on their beliefs and cultural practices.