IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|

Travel Health Journal

Piotr Młynarczyk travel health basics

Travel Health Basics: Before You Go

Planning a healthy trip

Nobody wants to think about getting sick abroad when they could be scoping out the best sights to see. However, being informed about health risks at your destination and learning what you can do to avoid them are key to planning a memorable trip.

Travel health is about prevention and common sense. Be aware of health issues that may arise and take appropriate measures to prevent illnesses and injuries when you’re travelling, not only for your own well-being, but for the people and communities you encounter during your trip.

The tips below will help you determine how far in advance you need to prepare, which immunizations and medications you’ll need, and why other travellers may be following different health advice.

Be informed about the risks

  • Find out about health risks at your destination and learn how to prevent injuries and the spread of infectious diseases. In addition to diseases, health risks can include animal bites, road accidents, and food and water safety.
  • Research travel health insurance plans, especially if you are concerned about a pre-existing health condition, emergency surgery, extended hospital stays, travel to a remote area or medical evacuation. Read the fine print to ensure that all your health needs will be covered.
  • Enroll in a first aid course. If you’re going to a remote or wilderness area, you may want to enroll in a wilderness survival course.
  • Find a reputable doctor or mental health practitioner at your destination. Don’t leave this until you need emergency help abroad. Knowing how to contact and locate a trusted healthcare provider will save time and reduce your stress.

Vaccines and your first aid kit

  • Make sure your routine immunizations are up-to-date. These include tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, and polio. Routine immunizations aren’t just for kids! Some immunizations require booster doses; tetanus and diphtheria, for example, should be updated every 10 years. These vaccines are free since they’re covered by government health plans.
  • Depending on your destination, you may need travel-related vaccinations. Visit your doctor or travel health clinic to set up a vaccination schedule since many vaccines are given in a series of doses over several weeks or months. We recommend getting immunized at least 6 weeks before departure to build-up your immunity. If you’re leaving in a few days, get vaccinated anyway since having partial immunity is better than none. In North America, the cost for different travel vaccines varies and may not be covered by insurance.
  • Note that some countries require proof of vaccination against specific diseases such as Yellow Fever. A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate becomes valid only 10 days after vaccination so be sure to get your shot at least 10 days before your trip so you won’t have problems at the border.
  • Prepare a travel first aid kit for dealing with common issues like headaches, allergies, blisters, and travellers’ diarrhea.

 Why are other travellers following different advice?

You may meet other travellers that are not taking the same anti-malarial medications or did not get the same vaccines as you did. That doesn’t mean that your doctor or travel health practitioner gave you the wrong advice.

Travel medicine recommendations differ from person to person and are specific to your current health status, destinations, trip itinerary, type of travel, and length of stay. Health guidelines also differ among countries so if you’re a Canadian, anti-malarial recommendations will differ from a German or British traveller. This is because some medications and vaccines are not available in some countries, cultural perceptions of risk may differ, and travel medicine experts disagree on guidelines due to lack of evidence.

Be sure to give your health provider all the trip details, including the places you’ll be staying and activities you’re planning. This can also save you money since you and your practitioner can prioritize vaccines you’ll need for your specific itinerary. If anti-malarial medication is prescribed, take it as directed to prevent an infection and resistance to the parasites. It’s important to try it out before you go in case you experience side effects; there are other choices out there in case the one prescribed to you is not well tolerated. If you are unsure about the vaccines or medication you’ve been prescribed ask your doctor or pharmacist for clarification. See our How to Protect Yourself Against Malaria whitepaper for a full explanation of malaria medication options.

Above all, don’t forget to enjoy your trip. By preparing now, you’ll be better able to avoid illness or injury abroad. Bon voyage!

This is the first post in our Travel Health Basics series. 

By Tullia Marcolongo and Daphne Hendsbee.

Photo by Piotr Młynarczyk, Pexels.