Planning for a Trip
The following information is provided by Mills-Peninsula Health Services' Travel Medicine Department.
What do I need to think about before I travel internationally?
- Plan ahead. I have had patients call and ask, "My flight leaves in an hour. Do I need any immunizations?" Many important immunizations don't work instantaneously. Knowing where you're going and giving yourself one to two months of preparation is basic.
- Carry enough medication to last through your trip. Medications routinely available in the United States aren't easily found in some countries. Also you need to protect your medication(s) from things like humidity. I've had patients who travel to tropical areas and discover that all their medication has melted
- If you have significant medical problems, carry a summary - just in case. In some countries, doctors who can't speak English can read it - because English has become the international language of medicine. A written medical summary can be very useful if needed.
- Make sure your health insurance covers you in countries you're traveling to.
- Consider evacuation insurance. Companies offering these plans will help you get out of a country with substandard medical care and into a country with modern medical care. It's not very expensive but it can be very good for your peace of mind.
- Go to your dentist before your trip. Losing a filling or having a major dental problem in a developing country can be a problem.
- Take an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses with your prescription. Luggage gets lost, glasses break, things get stolen. It's always a good idea to have a backup.
- Make photocopies of your passport and immunization records and keep them in a separate location. It's a lot easier to get a replacement of your passport if you've got a copy.
Can't I get my medication in most countries overseas?
You need to be very careful about foreign medications. You can walk into pharmacies and get medications that are actually very dangerous to use. My brother works for the State Department and was in Bangladesh for five years. When I visited him, I found he was using a medication called chloramphenicol for eye drops. This medication can knock out your bone marrow and cause leukemia. We don't use it except in life and death situations and he was using it for a mild eye infection. Be wary about the medications you can get in other countries.
I don't want to get shots that aren't necessary. Am I at risk if I only get the required immunizations?
Realize that the only vaccinations countries require are for the diseases they don't want brought into their own country. If a country has a rampant hepatitis A problem (and many do) they don't care if somebody comes in with hepatitis A. The difference between something that's "required" and something that's "recommended" is very important to remember.
We'll only be staying in first-class hotels and resorts. Do we have anything to worry about?
Just because you're staying at a first-class place does not mean that you can lower your guard when it comes to food and drink. A case in point, is a group of ten people who had been traveling together in India. When they arrived home, four of them were extremely ill. Their primary care physicians told them they probably just had the flu. It turns out they had typhoid fever, a potentially life threatening disease.
They came to me and said, "We only stayed at five-star hotels. How could we get typhoid fever? " My point to them was that the people who work in the kitchens of five-star hotels don't live there and may not be as scrupulous about washing their hands before food preparation as we'd like.