Jul 17, 2017 12:00 AM

Author: Emily Sundquist


If you’re like most people, your to-do list before a summer trip already feels long enough—but it might be worth adding on just one more item. Even the best-planned trip abroad can be ruined if you have to spend it stuck in a hotel bed feeling crummy. And getting sick abroad can be more than just disappointing. Diseases like Zika, malaria, and yellow fever can have effects that last long after you get back home.

“Up to half of travelers going to low- or lower-middle-income countries have an illness while traveling” says Daniel Leung, MD, MSC, a travel and geographic medicine specialist with the University of Utah Health’s Travel Clinic.

Practicing good hygiene when you’re abroad is important. But there will always be variables you can’t control—the person who cooks your food, if a bug chooses to bite you, and more. With so much you can’t control, you should maximize what you can: Go to a travel clinic for vaccines and advice before heading out of the country.

Travel clinics are healthcare facilities that specialize in keeping travelers healthy abroad. They can give advice and medicine to help you stay healthy on a trip and 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, medicine, or tests you need. For example, you can only get the yellow fever vaccine, which some countries require for entry, at specifically certified clinics.

Before Your Trip

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 diseases may be different than those in the US. At a pre-travel appointment, you may get vaccines, medications, and advice to help you protect yourself.

If possible, try to schedule a pre-travel appointment for at least two months before you plan to leave—the earlier the better. Leaving this much time will ensure you can take a full course of antibiotics if you need to.

At an appointment, you can expect a doctor to ask about your trip itinerary as well as your previous medical history. Be prepared to tell them not only what country you’re going to, but also how long you’ll be there, what regions of the country you’ll be visiting, what type of accommodations you’ll stay in, what activities you plan to do, and where you’ll get food and water.

Once You’re Back

If you return from a trip feeling sick, you may not be sure if you should see a travel clinic. Leung recommends coming in after any international trip if you have a fever or any symptom—like a rash, cough, or diarrhea—that lasts more than a week.

You may not think of going to a travel clinic if you’re feeling sick, opting instead for an ER, Urgent Care facility, or your regular physician. However, a doctor outside of a travel clinic may not be as familiar with the diseases you may have been exposed to, and they may not even have access to the tests you need.

Safe travels!

zika malaria yellow fever travel vaccines

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