Getting A Travel Consultation Before International Travel

Posted: Mar 15th, 2019 at 03:37PM - by Jonathan Baktari MD/President & CEO

commercial airplane in flight

If you’re traveling internationally, special consideration must be given to your health based on your destination. International travel means you could potentially be exposed to unique conditions, environments, and diseases you aren’t concerned about in the United States — whether that’s because they don’t exist entirely or they just aren’t very common. This is where a travel consultation comes in.

If you’re at risk of exposure to a disease you’ve not yet protected yourself against, planning an international trip should include a travel consultation. This consultation serves three purposes:

    1. To assess the traveler’s personal risks based on their own health
    2. To educate the traveler on risk prevention
    3. To vaccinate the traveler and provide any other necessary medications

You will work with a travel medicine specialist who is well educated regarding your destination country, the risks of traveling there, and how any of your own current health issues might factor in.

Let’s look at each of the three parts of a travel consultation in more detail, and how they can help you in planning your trip.

Assessing the Traveler’s Personal Risks

Within the assessment portion of a travel consultation, there are three main arenas you’re going to cover: how your own state of health might affect your travel risks, how your planned activities might affect them, and how the environment and time of year might affect them.

Your State of Health

There are several health factors that could put an individual at heightened risk, including:

    • Recent hospitalization
    • Surgery within the last few weeks
    • Having a chronic disease
    • Pregnancy
    • Old age
    • Traveling with children

    If you’re pregnant, for instance, you might want to reconsider traveling anywhere that carries a high potential of being exposed to the Zika virus or malaria (like the Caribbean, where Zika is present), as these diseases can cause severe birth defects.

    Yellow fever is another concern. According to the World Health Organization, while ideally, pregnant or nursing women will avoid this vaccination, you should talk to your doctor about being vaccinated if there’s an epidemic or you’re traveling to a country where there is risk of contracting it. (Do you need to find a yellow fever vaccine clinic? The CDC lists all locations.)

    Your Planned Activities

    One must also consider the specific activities they will be participating in once they arrive at their destination. Such activities might require their own special preparations. Examples of this include:

      • River rafting
      • Diving
      • Cycling
      • Spelunking
      • Going on a cruise
      • Spending time with animals
      • Spending time in high altitudes
      • Medical tourism
      • Travelers who are healthcare workers
      • Travelers who are foreign aid workers or humanitarians

      For example, if you plan on river rafting, you might potentially be exposed to schistosomiasis — a disease caused by parasitic worms in certain kinds of freshwater snails — or leptospirosis — which is caused by bacteria spread by the urine of infected animals, which has then made its way into water or soil.

      In general, if you’re planning on doing anything that puts you in a crowded and tightly packed area (like attending a live event), you’ll want to be prepared, because the chance of contracting and spreading disease here is even higher.

      The Environment and Timing

      Further consideration must be given to:

        • Whether your destination is rural or urban
        • Your trip duration
        • The season you're traveling in

        What kind of temperatures are you planning on? This could mean the health risks are different — not unlike what we experience in the United States, when the flu virus becomes more prevalent during the winter months.

        Educating the Traveler on Risk Prevention

        Having all the above information is relatively meaningless if you don’t know what to do with it, which will bring you to the second part of the travel consultation: discussing how to avoid these risks.

        Some precautions are mostly common sense, such as:

          • Wasing your hands regularly
          • Using hand sanitizer with alcohol
          • Applying insect repellant
          • Choosing your food and drinks carefully, particularly if the water quality is questionable (in which case, there are certain foods - like produce - you might not want to eat at all).

          However, in some cases, these precautions won’t get the job done. That’s where vaccines come in.

          Getting Your Immunizations

          Getting vaccinated is a crucial component here. This is your opportunity to make sure, first, you’re up to date on routine vaccines, like the </post/150/the-flu-shot-myth-versus-fact/">flu shot, varicella, and measles-mumps-rubella. Yes, these vaccines matter — did you know Europe has an ongoing measles outbreak?

          Secondly, this part of the consultation ensures you get any vaccinations specific to your destination. Travel medicine varies by country — some countries have no requirements, some offer financial incentives, and some make it mandatory. Doing your research is nonnegotiable because you’re talking about diseases that can be severe and even fatal.

          This is not something to leave for the last minute. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it can take anywhere from four to six weeks to complete a vaccine series. Therefore, you should plan to get vaccinated at least a couple months out, at the very least. In fact, you might want to give it even longer than that, so your body has sufficient time to build up its immunity.

          The exact vaccinations you’ll need is something you’ll discuss with your travel medicine specialist. The yellow fever vaccine commonly comes up, but this isn’t very common in the United States. Unless you’re going to a high-risk area (or coming from one), you likely won’t be required to get it.

          Below are several more vaccines you might need to consider:

              • Hepatitis A: This is a common vaccine when traveling to certain countries.
              • Polio: In some parts of the Middle East and Africa, polio is still a concern.
              • Tuberculosis: TB is prevalent in countries including India and Indonesia, and it’s a top 10 cause of death.
              • Meningococcal: Meningitis is common in areas like sub-Saharan Africa.

            Other travel vaccinations you may need are hepatitis B, typhoid, rabies, encephalitis, and cholera.

            In the United States, we are fortunate to enjoy rapidly advancing technology and medicine, expansive health care, and access to the medicine we need. Other countries may present their own unique health risks, so the responsibility is on you, the traveler, to protect yourself and others.