Learn the basics of safe holiday travel
In planning your holiday or winter vacation, you might groan about scheduling travel vaccines or other safety measures.
Sometimes these vaccines or medications can seem confusing, not necessary or more of a hassle than help. However, Dr. Ann Trauscht, a family medicine physician at Advocate Medical Group in Lake Zurich, Ill., has over 15 years’ experience of helping travelers navigate their business and pleasure travels safely and efficiently.
“Some patients tell me, ‘I only want to get what is required.’ Most of the vaccines or preventive medications that we advise our traveler patients to receive are not required, but are strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization,” Dr. Trauscht says. “These are recommended to prevent the serious diseases that are present in the destination countries.”
Dr. Trauscht finds the below vaccines and preparations are helpful for her patients to enjoy their trips:
- Influenza (Flu) Vaccine: This vaccine is important during flu season whether you’re traveling or not. But travelers take planes, buses, trains and packed cars where people are in close proximity and are usually already worn down and tired. For international traveling, it is recommended to get this vaccine no matter the time of year.
- Hepatitis A Vaccine: This vaccine is now given to most 1-year old children, but many adults have never received it because it did not become a national recommendation until the year 2000. This is a lifetime vaccine and is given in two shots. One shot would protect you now for the holidays, and the second one can be scheduled in 6-12 months. Usually, Hepatitis A is acquired from food and can cause nausea, jaundice and feeling sick for up to 6-8 weeks. Easy to avoid and prevent for your next trip.
- Traveler’s Diarrhea Prevention: Due to frequent dining out while traveling, this symptom is very common as one is exposed to various food and water sources. Besides travel medicine clinics, your primary care physician could have these medications on hand to prescribe. “I usually let my patients know how they can decrease their risk of Traveler’s Diarrhea by not drinking tap water,” mentions Dr. Trauscht, “But I also give them medicine to have on hand to treat for their initial body’s reaction and an antibiotic. She says that most physicians do not typically treat diarrhea in patients who have only been in the U.S. as that is usually either a viral infection or food poisoning and will be self-limited. But in global travel, not having medications can disrupt the trip, cause unnecessary medical treatment and can cause long-term intestinal issues later.
- Zika & Dengue Prevention: Mosquitos have become more of a health risk the past couple decades due to their prolific spreading of nasty viruses. Travelers are encouraged to bring sprays, wear preventative clothing, use netting while sleeping, etc. especially if traveling to Africa, Asia, South/Central America and the Caribbean. Those particularly at risk are children and pregnant women. Children’s higher body heat attracts mosquitoes, and both children and pregnant women can become much sicker from these insect borne illnesses than adults.
- Motor Vehicle Accidents: Currently, the biggest safety health issue for travelers are from motor vehicles, whether a pedestrian or vehicle occupant. According to the CDC, these accidents are more common than any infectious diseases you can catch in another country. Watch where you are walking, keep aware of your surroundings and when possible, use local drivers rather than driving yourself.
To be prepared for your trip, go to your local travel medicine clinic approximately 6-8 weeks before you leave, as most vaccines can be done in this time frame and be effective for travel. However, there are quite a few vaccines that can be done last minute, so don’t let the short time frames stop you from protecting yourself. Though most of the year it is easy to get an appointment at these clinics, there is always a pre-summer surge of patients right before summer vacation, so keep that in mind.
Dr. Trauscht also shares what to expect at your travel medicine appointment:
- You will fill out a health questionnaire before your scheduled appointment that includes your travel plans and specific locations, so staff can look up your vaccine and medication prevention needs ahead of time.
- Appointments are generally an hour long for new travelers or patients. Returning patients are between 15-30 minutes.
- Dr. Trauscht typically asks her patients, “What problems have you had before when you have traveled?” or “What are you most concerned about when you travel?”
- Prevention measures are tailored to your personal plans. The vaccines you might need for staying at a resort versus hiking in the jungle versus helping children in an orphanage might be vastly different.
- Your travel medicine physician is most likely part of the International Society of Travel Medicine and receives 6-10 updates every day on new concerns or safety issues lifted. They also can easily reach out to colleagues in that specific area of that country to collect more information and get expert feedback.
- You will be sent off with a packet of what to do when you are overseas medically, cultural information, given embassy numbers in case of an emergency, have a detailed review sheet of what was talked about for your safety, what vaccines you were given and if you need any follow-up appointments.
- Shared excitement about your trip from your travel medicine professional who is keeping your safety and fun top priority!
About the Author
Jennifer Benson, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has 10+ years of community development and communication experience for non-profits and has a BA in Architecture from Judson University in Elgin, IL. Outside of work, you can find her planning the next adventure near water or rocks, re-organizing spaces, working on her Master’s in Public Health, caring for her senior citizen cat, keeping to healthy moving and eating disciplines and growing green things wherever she can find room.