If you’re like most people, your to-do list before a trip already feels long enough—but it might be worth adding just one more item. Even the best-planned trip can be ruined if you have to spend it stuck in a hotel bed feeling crummy. And getting sick while on vacation can be more than just disappointing. Diseases like Zika, malaria, yellow fever, and COVID-19 can have effects that last long after you return home.
Whether you’re traveling in the United States or out of the country, it’s important to be prepared. “Up to half of travelers going to low- or lower-middle-income countries have an illness while traveling,” says Daniel Leung, MD, MSc, an associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and a travel and geographic medicine specialist with University of Utah Health’s Travel Clinic.
Before Your Trip
Your travel destination may determine extra steps necessary to help protect yourself.
- Visit a travel clinic
Leung recommends making a pre-travel appointment at a travel clinic if you’re going anywhere in Asia, Africa, Central America, or South America, where there may be infectious diseases different than those in the U.S.
Travel clinics are health care facilities that specialize in keeping travelers healthy abroad. They can give advice, vaccines, and medicines to help you stay healthy on a trip and provide appropriate treatment if you return feeling sick. Most general physicians are not as familiar with the diseases you might contract when traveling and may not have access to the vaccines, medicines, or tests you need. For example, you can only get the yellow fever vaccine, which some countries require for entry, at specifically certified clinics.
If possible, try to schedule a pre-travel appointment at least two months before you plan to leave—the earlier the better. Leaving this much time will ensure you can receive a full vaccine course if needed.
- Make sure you’re up to date on vaccinations
If you are traveling in the U.S., you should be up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccines, especially if you are traveling during the respiratory viral season.
If you are traveling abroad, check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about health recommendations depending on the country you are visiting.
- Make a travel health kit
The CDC also recommends making a travel health kit with items that may be hard to find at your destination.
Once You’re Back
If you return from a trip feeling sick, you may not be sure if you should go to a travel medicine specialist in a travel clinic. Leung recommends coming in after any international trip if you have a fever of any duration, or if there are any other symptoms—like a rash, cough, or diarrhea—that are severe or last more than a few days.
Travel clinics, like at University of Utah Health, are staffed by travel medicine specialists who are familiar with infections you may have been exposed to during your trip. They can provide appropriate testing and treatments.