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How to Protect Yourself Against Infectious Diseases When Traveling Abroad

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How to Protect Yourself Against Infectious Diseases When Traveling Abroad

Oct 01, 2014
Infectious diseases such as Ebola are becoming a worldwide major concern, especially if you're traveling abroad. Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, Chief of the Infectious Disease Division at University of Utah Health Care, tells you the one thing you should always do before you leave the country, and in some cases after you get back, to keep yourself and others healthy.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: How does Ebola change your travel plans? We'll examine that next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: We're speaking with Dr. Sankar Swaminathan. He's the Chief of Infectious Disease Division here at the University of Utah. And if you have travel plans, now you are thinking about Ebola. Does that change your travel plans, or is there something you can do?

Dr. Swaminathan: We have our travel clinic here at the University of Utah Hospital. At the Medical Center here we provide services both to people who are returning from abroad as well as people who are preparing to go abroad.
Now regardless of the current outbreak, the Ebola outbreak, there are a variety of other transmissible infectious diseases that one could pick up abroad. So we encourage anyone who's planning to travel to visit a qualified clinic or provider who can give that traveler the right advice as to what to do to keep themselves healthy, and also importantly provide them with medications that they may need to take as a preventative measure or a prophylactic medication. There may be medications that they need to just take if they get sick while there that they could carry with them.
And finally and probably just as important as anything else is having all the immunizations necessary. Now, depending on where you're going, you may need some immunizations that you may not need even in the United States. This gets very complicated, and it's a rapidly changing field, even on a weekly basis, as emerging infections crop up in places. There may be precautions that you need to take that you might not have had to take the last time.
So we provide this service not only to individuals but to groups that are traveling, for example, student groups or humanitarian aid workers. We can counsel them, give them their immunizations, give them a travel booklet and this kind of thing. We're all set up to do that.

Interviewer: So when you're getting ready for a trip, it's always very difficult to get all the things done that you need to get done. And I don't know that traveling out of the country I've ever done this before.

Dr. Swaminathan: Like you said, there's a lot of things that come up that you have to do, get your passport, this, that, and the other, but this is probably something that you should make time to do. You don't want your vacation of a lifetime ruined by this nor do you want a serious illness that's preventable. It's also in this current situation where there are so many serious threats that seem to be arising, emerging. It's important to at least prevent the ones that we can prevent.
If you come back with a fever, it rapidly becomes a potentially serious situation where many, many things have to be ruled out. The more you can help keep that from happening by preventing those preventable things, like malaria. Much of malaria is preventable. There are many other illnesses that you can get, as I said, immunization for, prophylactic medicines for. It's well worth your time.

If not here at the University of Utah, at state public health clinics, and so on. They also provide travel counseling and immunization. We work with several of these municipal health clinics, and we provide them consultation. We have physicians who are specifically expert in travel. Some who have lived in places like Bangladesh and have traveled abroad to various parts of Africa, for example.

So if you have something that you've acquired abroad, we've probably seen it. At least, one of our physicians has had some experience with it.

Interviewer: So if I'm traveling out of the country, regardless of where I'm going, I should probably stop by one of these clinics.

Dr. Swaminathan: Absolutely.

Interviewer: And if I've returned and I'm getting some symptoms of I'm getting sick, don't just blow it off as a cold or something like that, go see one of these clinics.

Dr. Swaminathan: That's right. We can provide very rapid appointments for people who are returning from travel, generally, within a day or two. If you call, we can also have one of our physicians call you back to discuss what the issues might be as well, and see how urgently you should be seen. And they can often just provide reassurance, if nothing else, when you've returned from abroad.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.