Whether you've finally decided to take that family vacation or you're heading abroad for your job, traveling can be exciting... and a little scary. Especially if you're going to a country with contagious diseases or unfamiliar bugs.
While you may have the best gear, an awesome itinerary, and a few key phrases you've practiced, it's important to take special precautions to stay healthy.
That's where the travel clinic at Chester County Hospital comes in. The purpose of a travel clinic is to prepare for your safety when you travel to another country. It's recommended to have an appointment with a travel medicine physician at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip.
Dr. Margaret Stroz, MD specializes in Occupational & Environmental Medicine and Family Medicine and advises her patients about safe travel through the Travel Medicine Program at the Occupational Health Center at Chester County Hospital. Her goal is to make sure her patients walk out of her office ready to embark on their journey safely.
Here are 5 reasons you should visit a travel medicine provider before you travel.
1. They can provide you with the most current recommendations for immunizations.
Many travelers find themselves at a travel program for immunizations (vaccines). Vaccines are proof of what modern medicine can do for your health: Keep you from getting infections and illnesses, even while you hop borders.
When you travel, you may come in contact with a disease that's much more common in that country, so it's important to make sure you're fully protected against it. Also, people who are more vulnerable to routine diseases like measles or the flu may be easily exposed to sick travelers in close spaces, such as airports and airplanes, and run the risk of becoming ill while traveling.
One of the first things a travel medicine provider does is make sure you're current on routine vaccinations, such as measles or Hepatitis A and B. It may be less common for these diseases to occur in the United States because of national immunization requirements, but requirements aren't the same in every country.
Dr. Margaret Stroz, MD,
Occupational & Environmental Medicine and Family Medicine
"Travelers are often interested in preventing the more exotic travel-related diseases, like typhoid, but it's important to make sure you're up-to-date on vaccines for the flu, tetanus, or pertussis, which are actually more common risks during travel," Dr. Stroz says. It's crucial that you bring a complete record of your immunizations for your provider to make these recommendations.
Some vaccinations are required for you to enter certain countries, as well, such as the yellow fever vaccine. "Some patients are misinformed. They might not realize that getting a vaccine isn't just a personal choice to protect their health. It's a requirement to enter the country and you might not be able to take your trip without it," Dr. Stroz says. "In some countries, entry may be denied without the required vaccine certification."
You can also check the vaccine requirements for your destination according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) website.
2. They can equip you with important medication - both to prevent and treat illnesses.
Dr. Stroz says that one of the most common questions she gets is about what medications patients need to take. It's not that simple, though - medications vary from patient to patient. You might grab some over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen for a headache. But the travel medicine clinic can recommend other medications to prevent illness and, if needed, treat it.
At the Travel Medicine Program at Chester County Hospital, physicians can provide you with preventative medication for conditions like malaria, altitude sickness, motion sickness, diarrhea, and other things that you may not even think of.
Your travel medicine physician can also talk to you about medications for bug bites that can cause diseases and lead to serious health-related complications.
Your physician will discuss what other measures, aside from medication, you'll need to protect yourself, such as using insect repellent and staying hydrated.
Make sure you bring a detailed travel itinerary to your appointment, so your provider can determine what medication you need and which prescription is best for you. Keep in mind that certain medications may not work for you, especially if you're taking another medication at the same time or have a chronic medical condition.
3. They can educate you about food and water safety at your destination.
Travel medicine is not just about preparing with shots and prescriptions. It's also avoiding illnesses by taking certain precautions.
"In some countries, you still have to do all of the other important things - eat safe food, drink safe water, avoid fresh fruits and veggies, and cook and peel things completely, unless you've done the cooking or peeling," she explains.
Some of these precautions only apply to certain countries. For example, some travelers have experienced illnesses such as:
- Traveler's diarrhea in Mexico, often referred to as Montezuma's revenge
- Cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which comes from contaminated food or water
- Ciguatera in Caribbean countries, which comes from eating contaminated fish
Your travel medicine provider can go over safe food and water habits for your destination. And remember - washing your hands effectively and using hand sanitizers can lower your risk for traveler's diarrhea.
Contaminated food and water can lead to traveler's diarrhea and other diseases, such as hepatitis A or typhoid. Your physician at the travel clinic can talk to you about what foods and sources of water are risky in some countries, such as:
- Rare or room-temperature meat
- Raw, unwashed, or cut up fruits and veggies
- Unpasteurized dairy
- Food from street vendors
- Tap or well water (or ice that's made from tap or well water)
- Fountain drinks
They can also talk to you about showering, swimming, or brushing your teeth safely.
Even if you're an experienced traveler, there may be other ways to stay safe that you're unaware of. Your physician can make sure you have the most recent, accurate information.
4. They can help you travel safely if you have specific health requirements.
Not all travelers are the same and everyone may have different concerns. At the Travel Medicine Program, your physician can make sure you're meeting all of your needs according to your age and health.
At-risk travelers who may have special recommendations include:
- Travelers with chronic illnesses or disabilities
- Travelers with weakened immune systems
- Children, pregnant women, or senior citizens
For example, you may learn about swimming safety if you're traveling with a child, Zika virus or airplane travel if you're pregnant, or injury prevention if you're a senior.
If you have special concerns, Dr. Stroz recommends allowing yourself extra time to prepare for your travel by coming in a month or two before the usual recommendation of 6 weeks before your trip. This will give you enough time to prepare for and address your health concerns.
5. They can discuss safe travel habits with you.
You'll make plenty of decisions while you travel, from where you go to what you do there. You'll need to make smart decisions to ensure your safety in a foreign country. "Some people may choose to make decisions when they're traveling that they wouldn't at home," Dr. Stroz says.
You should avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations, such as walking around alone at night, drinking more than usual, or having unprotected sex. While vacation should be enjoyable, and it's understandable to want to take in everything a country has to offer, you still need to be careful. Don't let the rules slip just because you're on vacation.
"I spend time talking about these other risks because I want my travelers to make well-informed decisions about potentially risky behaviors," Dr. Stroz says.
A Travel Medicine Physician: Your One-Stop Shop for Safe Travel
Whether this is your first or your twenty-first trip abroad, you can always benefit from visiting a travel medicine provider. Information about staying safe while traveling is always changing. A travel physician's job is to stay up to date with recommendations and make sure you have the tools you need to stay safe and healthy on your trip.
Their scope of knowledge is not limited to medicine. They can help you with questions about how to safely get around the city you'll be staying in or ways to prevent jet lag.
Remember, travel medicine physicians work with travelers all the time. When it comes to things like vaccines, medications, and other health-related travel concerns, leave it to the experts. All you need to worry about is what swimsuit or pair of snow pants to pack in your suitcase.
Do you still have questions about how to stay safe while traveling? Call 610-738-2450 to speak with a travel medicine physician at the Travel Medicine Program at the Occupational Health Center at Chester County Hospital to stay safe during your trip.
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