Vacation is a chance to experience a new culture, go sightseeing, spend time with family or friends and relax. While no one plans for getting sick or injured, sudden illnesses and accidents can happen. Planning ahead can help keep you and your family safe while vacationing.
Preparation for a vacation often depends on whether you will be traveling within the country or internationally – international travel often requires certain vaccinations, among other precautions. Either way, working with your primary care provider can help ensure that any health needs are taken care of in advance.
“We recommend that travelers schedule an appointment at least six weeks prior to leaving,” says McFarland Clinic Travel Clinic physician Peter Wolfe, MD.
In six weeks time, the vaccines will have generated enough immunity to protect from diseases.
The McFarland Travel Clinic takes appointments on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. Appointments are generally 30 minutes and are fairly comprehensive.
Knowing about the specific place where you’ll be visiting is an added precaution. Most foreign countries, with the exception of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, require additional vaccinations to prevent disease transmission.
“A large part of the appointment consists of discussing where you are traveling, what you will be doing, what living accommodations will be and food and water concerns. After this, we review what vaccinations are needed and general practices for staying healthy,” says Dr. Wolfe.
Handouts accompany each vaccination given and can provide more details about the vaccine, including why it was given.
Appointments are individualized to meet each traveler’s needs. For those with chronic diseases, be sure to have prescriptions refilled and take all medication along.
“All medications must be labeled with prescriptions in the original containers. Depending on where you are traveling, additional information from your doctor may be required,” says Dr. Wolfe.
Being prepared for travel illnesses and injuries also includes packing some items for a first aid kit.
“Your first aid kit should have sunscreen, Tylenol or Ibuprofen, Imodium, insect repellent, hand sanitizer and an elastic bandage roll (Ace wrap),” says Dr. Wolfe.
Many illnesses can occur from food and water due to lack of food safety regulations in foreign countries.
“Drinking bottled water and eating food and vegetables that are cooked thoroughly can prevent illnesses like diarrhea,” says Dr. Wolfe. “Also, beware of ice cubes. They are usually made from tap water which is unsafe to drink [in certain countries].”
Washing your hands often with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer like Purell® will help eliminate germs you come in contact with.
Yellow fever and malaria are common diseases carried by mosquitoes in developing countries. Protect yourself from insects by remaining in screened areas, wearing long-sleeved clothing and applying an insect repellant containing 30 percent DEET such as Off® Deep Woods.
Along with taking precautions against insect bites, travelers should also beware of getting bitten or scratched by unknown animals.
“Any wild animal bite or scratch should be treated immediately within 24 hours to protect against rabies,” says Dr. Wolfe.
Unfortunately many developing countries do not have adequate medical facilities. “Travelers should know what their health insurance will cover abroad,” says Dr. Wolfe. “Most countries will expect payment at the time of service, but people can often be reimbursed by their carrier.” If you are in need of medical care, contact the US Embassy for information on local clinics.
If you have taken the necessary precautions before traveling, it is likely that you will return from your vacation as healthy as you left. However, upon return, if you have a high fever (more than 103°) or diarrhea that isn’t going away, it is advised to seek follow-up treatment with your physician.
To learn more about travel health and related topics, check out the following articles on our online health library:
Whether traveling internationally or domestically, all people should have:
- A list of allergies and pertinent health problems
- An emergency contact number
- A current tetanus shot
In case of an emergency, people should know:
- Infant, child and adult CPR
- The Heimlich maneuver
- How to stop bleeding
- How to splint minor injuries (until help arrives)