Traveling this Summer? Be Prepared.
By Michael Lasalandra
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent
With summer vacation season fast approaching, you are probably busy lining up your flights and hotels as well as the leisure activities you want to enjoy while away. But whether you are flying to China for the Olympics, to Tanzania for a wild animal safari or just driving to Cape Cod to enjoy the beach and the fried clams, you shouldn't forget to prepare for a possible medical emergency while gone.
If you are heading overseas, particularly to an exotic location, you'll need your shots. If you are going to a closer foreign land such as Mexico, you'll probably want to prepare for the possibility of traveler's diarrhea. And even if you are staying in the United States, you'll want to make sure you bring all the prescription medications you usually take, as well as any over-the-counter products you think you may need.
Travelers heading overseas often prepare by going to a clinic that specializes in pre-travel counseling and immunizations.
"We recommend patients come in a month before they are planning to leave," says Sharon Novie, Travel Clinic Coordinator at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Travel Clinic. "Our services are geared to overseas travel."
The clinic offers a personalized consult with a doctor or nurse to determine just what shots will be needed -- depending on the location -- and what preventative measures should be taken, she says.
The traveler's visit begins with an evaluation of his or her itinerary and medical history. The traveler is then counseled on matters such as prevention of mosquito and insect-borne illnesses; food and water precautions; treatment of commonly encountered bacterial diseases; and altitude sickness.
Vaccines are then administered as appropriate. These may include routine immunizations against diseases such as polio, tetanus/diphtheria, measles/mumps/rubella, streptococcal pneumonia, hepatitis B and varicella, or specialty vaccines against diseases such as yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis A, typhoid, meningitis and rabies.
Dana Greeson of Cambridge went to the BIDMC Travel Clinic in advance of a five-month trip to Central America where she was going to study Spanish.
"I met with one of the nurses and we looked at a map of the area to determine which diseases were prevalent in which countries," she says. "She educated me about which different shots and medications were available and helped me decide which ones I wanted. It was a really good experience."
Greeson, now a student in public health, received shots for hepatitis C and rabies, as well as an oral medication for typhoid. She ended up visiting five countries, Guatamala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico.
Even if going to a nearby country such as Mexico, where shots are usually not needed, travelers may need to take precautions to avoid traveler's diarrhea and may want to seek a travel consult to update routine vaccines and discuss food and water precautions. This may include a prescription for an antibiotic, according to Novie. In any case, the clinic usually recommends that travelers bring along an over-the-counter diarrhea medication such as Immodium, she says.
No matter the country, it is usually recommended that travelers "be wary of street foods, and stick to bottled water." And don't forget, mixed drinks contain ice.
All of these points are discussed in-depth during a travel consult.
Even if you are staying in the United States for your vacation, planning can help ensure a healthy trip.
"Don't forget your sunblock and bug repellant and it is always good to carry extra over- the-counter medicines in case you need them," says Novie.
While most of these items can be purchased at a local drug store, bringing them along can save time and distress, she notes. "You don't want to be at a loss," she says.
Travelers on prescription medications may want to bring along extra scripts in case they run out or forget to pack them, she notes. "And make sure to carry the number of your primary care doctor and your pharmacy," she says.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
Posted June 2009