Traveling to some countries can pose serious health risks without the right precautions.
While traveling, you may experience sudden and significant changes in altitude, humidity, microbes and temperature that can cause illness. Serious health risks may be an issue in areas with the following:
- Poor accommodations
- Inadequate hygiene and sanitation services
- Lacking medical services
- Inadequate clean water supply
“If you are traveling for business, enjoyment or on medical or church missions you should meet with a health care provider to understand the health risks you may face and what immunizations you need before traveling,” said Crystal Sweeney, APN, FNP-BC, a member of the International Society of Travel Medicine.
“At OSF HealthCare, we saw the need for this service and have launched the Travel Health Clinic at OSF HealthCare Medical Group – College Avenue in Bloomington. The clinic provides travel consultations and immunizations.”
Meeting with a travel health expert
Depending on where you’re traveling, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that 22 to 64 percent of travelers report some illness. Most of these illnesses are mild, such as diarrhea, respiratory infections or skin disorders. Some travelers, however, return home with preventable life-threatening infections. Yet, many people do not see a doctor before embarking on their travels, Sweeney said.
The best time to see a travel health provider is at least four to six weeks before your trip. When visiting with the specialist, be prepared to provide details such as:
- Where you are traveling within a country
- The length of your trip
- What types of activities you might do
- Other personal information such as your age, medical and vaccine history and any current health issues, including allergies and current medications
During a consultation, you will meet with an advanced practice nurse who is a member of the
International Society for Travel Medicine. Be prepared to discuss the following:
- Itinerary and activities planned during the travel
- Review of previous immunizations and health history to develop an individualized plan
- Advice and administration of needed prescriptions, including malaria prophylaxis
- General health tips on rabies, diarrhea and other disease
You may be asked the following to help assess your risk(s):
- Do you have a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, pulmonary disease or stomach disorder?
- Will you be staying in rural accommodations?
- Will you be eating local foods in moderate- or high-risk areas?
- Are you planning any activities in moderate- or high-risk areas?
- Do you plan to stay longer than one month in moderate- or high-risk areas?
The need for vaccinations
“Make sure your routine vaccinations, including the seasonal flu vaccine, are up to date. You should also consider any recommended vaccines based on where you will be traveling,” Sweeney said. “And you should discuss any allergies, current medications or other health concerns you have.”
Recommended immunizations for international travelers may include:
- Tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap)
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Typhoid fever
- Meningococcal meningitis
- Pneumococcal pneumonia
- Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR)
Pre-travel advice has helped prevent the spread of malaria. Travelers visiting friends and relatives in other countries are most at risk of contracting malaria and typhoid. This group requires special attention to illness prevention and education. You may need anti-malaria medication if you’re going to an area where malaria is a problem. The medications should begin at least one week before traveling and sometimes will need to be taken up to four weeks after returning home.
Schedule an appointment
At the Travel Health Clinic, travelers are immunized and provided educational material on food and water safety, what to pack in a traveler kit and how to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. An advanced practice provider is available for consultations from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays at OSF HealthCare Medical Group – College Avenue at 1701 E. College Ave., Bloomington. A registered nurse also is available 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday to answer questions, book consultation appointments and provide vaccinations that may be part of a series. To schedule a consultation, call (309) 664-3201.
Learn more about the Travel Health Clinic, or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the World Health Organization websites for travel advisories and information on vaccines and outbreaks by travel destination.