Tips for international travel preparation

May 29, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

Before you go: Consult a travel medicine clinic or your doctor as soon as possible before the trip. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests going four to six weeks before the trip.

If vaccinations are needed, this will allow time for the body to build up immunity or allow time if a series of shots are required, says Dr. Ted Sofish with Occupational Health Associates in Chambersburg, Pa.

This visit to the doctor also will help you determine what medical items you'll need to take. It helps to know your itinerary so you can tell the doctor how long you will be away, what type of accommodations you will have (hotel or camping), and what types of areas you will visit (urban or rural). Visits to remote rural areas can have greater health risks.

Lower elevations are more prone to mosquitoes, Sofish says.

Vaccinations: Few vaccines are required by International Health Regulations, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a list of recommended vaccines depending upon the destination.


Yellow fever vaccination is required for people to go to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America, according to the CDC.

The government of Saudi Arabia requires meningococcal vaccinations for annual travel during the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, the CDC states.

Other vaccinations, such as Hepatitis A, might be recommended depending on the destination.

Health insurance: Check with your health insurance provider about coverage abroad.

Social Security's Medicare program does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States, according to the State Department's Web site. Senior citizens may contact the American Association of Retired Persons for information about foreign medical-care coverage with Medicare supplement plans.

Infectious diseases: Travelers can check with the WHO or CDC to find out what infectious diseases might be occurring in their destination country.

There have been recent mumps outbreaks in Venezuela, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine and a measles outbreak in Nairobi, Kenya, according to the CDC's Web site.

Pre-existing medical conditions and prescriptions: Travelers with pre-existing medical conditions should consult their doctors because health risks can be greater for those travelers, according to the WHO.

The State Department recommends such travelers carry a letter from their doctor describing the condition and prescribed medications, including generic names for the drugs. Leave medications in their original, clearly labeled containers.

Since some prescription medications can be considered illegal narcotics in other countries, travelers should check with their destination's foreign embassy about carrying their prescriptions abroad.

When you get back: The World Health Organization recommends certain travelers get a medical exam upon their return.

This includes:

· People with a chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease.

· People who are ill in the weeks after they get home, especially if symptoms include a fever, persistent diarrhea, vomiting, jaundice, urinary disorders, skin disease or genital infection. People with a fever and who were in a malaria-endemic area need to seek medical attention immediately.

· People who think they were exposed to a serious infectious disease while traveling.

· People who spent more than three months in a developing country.

For more information about health tips and concerns for international travelers, visit these Web sites:

U.S. Department of State, medical information for Americans traveling abroad,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Travelers' Health, or call 1-877-FYI-TRIP.

World Health Organization, International travel and health,

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