This article has been edited since its original posting due to the spread of zika virus. for current CDC recommendations about Zika Virus and foreign travel–including recommendations for pregnant women–CLICK HERE.
Will your travel plans include a mission trip, a cruise, or other foreign travel? Do you have a student studying in a foreign country next semester? Even if you’re travelling within the U.S., a few health-related items should be included on your planning checklist.
Planning a safe and healthy trip
First, if you are pregnant or have an existing medical condition that could impact your trip, discuss your travel plans with your physician.
- Pack an adequate supply of prescription medications in your carry-on bag.
- Include a few over-the-counter remedies for pain or fever, cold or cough, upset stomach, perhaps motion sickness, etc.
- Bring copies of written prescriptions in case your supply is lost or stolen.
- Carry an anti-bacterial hand-wash containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Consider a medical alert bracelet for chronic medical conditions.
Next, does your destination or mode of travel pose any special health or safety risks?
- The State Department provides country-specific travel safety information at http://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/english.html.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a wealth of health-related travel information at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/traveler-information-center. Note its page on cruise ship health, as well as information about special risks like SARS (bird flu) if you are travelling in an affected area.
- Birmingham has an excellent resource in UAB’s Travel Medicine Clinic! Dr. David Freedman and his staff can recommend the immunizations and special precautions that apply to your personal health issues and travel plans. A must for overseas travel to developing countries! http://www.uabmedicine.org/conditions-and-services/travelmed-overview
- We can prescribe medication to reduce your risk of altitude or sea sickness if these are a concern.
What about shots?
Keeping basic immunizations (like flu, tetanus, whooping cough) up-to-date is an important part of preventive healthcare whether or not you are travelling. Travel-specific immunizations (such as West Nile, Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, rabies, etc.) may be recommended depending on your destination. Consult UAB’s travel medicine clinic, and be sure to bring your immunization record to your appointment. Because travel abroad may require several of the above immunizations—some of which require more than one dose—a wise traveler will consider immunizations well in advance! Remember also that your body needs time to develop protection after receiving these shots.
Avoid Travelers’ Diarrhea
Observe common-sense precautions about what and where you eat and drink. Food-borne illnesses can be especially dangerous—even life threatening—for pregnant women. Remember, if drinking tap water is considered unsafe at your destination, this includes brushing your teeth and using ice in your beverages as well. You can find more advice on food and water-borne illnesses from the CDC at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/food-water-safety .
Finally, if you become ill or injured while travelling…
- Whether you’re vacationing out-of-state or out-of-country, consult your health insurance provider before you leave about what benefits apply to your travel. Even your short trip to the Florida panhandle may expose you to unexpected charges for out-of-network care. Insurers have very specific definitions about what constitutes a medical emergency.
- Special travel insurance policies can provide extra coverage, but even these have carefully defined benefits. For example, a given policy might restrict benefits if you engage in a particularly hazardous activity like mountain climbing, hang gliding, etc. Read carefully to understand whether a policy provides only trip cancellation insurance (to cover your financial investment in your trip), medical care, or both.
- Consider whether you need medical evacuation insurance, especially if you are travelling to a place where healthcare does not meet U.S. standards. Medical evacuation can be extremely expensive. Be sure such a policy has a 24-hour physician support center.
- These recommendations from the CDC provide great advice about how to find care for unexpected health problems while traveling in a foreign country. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/getting-health-care-abroad
We wish you safe, healthy, and enjoyable travels wherever your summer plans take you!