Congratulations – You booked your flight and you’re off on your next adventure. But, wait!
Before you leave, take a few simple steps to stay healthy on your trip. By taking the time to understand the health risks at your destination, you’ll keep those around you healthy too. If you’ve never been to a travel clinic, here’s what to expect and how to prepare.
Make an appointment with your family doctor. Your primary healthcare provider and pharmacist may be able to take care of all your travel health needs, including vaccinations. If your doctor doesn’t have expertise in travel health or you need Yellow Fever vaccination, they will refer you to a travel health specialist (for example, Yellow Fever vaccination is only available from certified travel clinics). You can also book an appointment at a travel clinic if you don’t have a family doctor.
Try to book your travel clinic appointment at least 4-6 weeks before your trip. At busy travel clinics, it may take a week or two to get an appointment. It’s important to book early since many vaccines come in a series and need to be administered according to a specific schedule. If you need to get vaccinated against Yellow Fever, be advised that only certain travel clinics are licensed to administer Yellow Fever and the vaccine is currently in limited supply in many areas. You also need to get vaccinated at least 10 days prior to your departure date for the vaccine to be valid. Take steps to arrange for vaccination as soon as possible so you have time to find a clinic with the vaccine in stock.
A travel health specialist will provide medical advice, vaccinations, and medications based on your overall health status and your travel itinerary. They can help you prioritize vaccines if you are short on time or on a limited budget, give you tips about how to avoid common travel-related illnesses, and answer your questions about staying healthy abroad.
Before your travel clinic appointment, make sure to familiarize yourself with the health risks at your destination. Knowing the risks can help you and your doctor make decisions together about which vaccines and medications are best suited for your trip.
What to bring to your appointment
Bring your previous immunization records and your detailed itinerary, including travel dates, planned activities, who you’re travelling with, and exactly where you are going – the more specific, the better. This is important because the nurse or doctor’s advice will be tailored to your health needs and the places you’re visiting. Make a list of any health conditions and medications you are taking.
A travel nurse or doctor will ask you detailed questions about your itinerary and your plans for the trip. Common questions include:
Many travel clinics use travel health information databases to identify local health risks, such as Rabies, Malaria, Dengue, Zika Virus, and other infectious diseases. Based on this information, your travel plans, and health status, your practitioner will identify key health risks you need to be aware of and protected from.
Vaccination is an important part of a travel clinic appointment. This is because many common travel-related illnesses are vaccine preventable. Depending on where you’re going and which vaccinations you’ve had in the past, you may get one, two, or several vaccinations during the same appointment. The majority of travel clinics are licensed to offer the Yellow Fever vaccine, which comes with a proof of vaccination certificate (here is a list of certified Yellow Fever centres in Canada and the United States).
Common travel vaccines include Typhoid, Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, and Hepatitis A if you are not already immune. These vaccines are safe and getting vaccinated will go a long way toward keeping you healthy. There are, however, many illnesses that cannot be prevented through vaccination. For example, there is currently no Dengue vaccine for travellers. If you’re going to an area with Dengue, your travel health specialist will advise you on how to prevent mosquito bites and when to see a doctor if you suspect that you have Dengue.
Another example is Malaria. There is currently no commercially available vaccine against Malaria but there are antimalarial medications that can be used with bed nets and mosquito bite prevention measures to significantly reduce your risk of infection. Antimalarial medications can have side effects, but there are several options available (see here for specific details). Your health provider can recommend the best option for you based on your health status and your destination.
A box-style mosquito bed net is the most effective style of bed net because it keeps the netting and mosquitoes away from your skin. (Image by IAMAT)
No matter where you’re travelling, your travel health provider will explain how to choose safe foods and drinks, and how to reduce the risk of Travellers’ Diarrhea and Hepatitis A. The nurse or doctor may give you printed information about other health risks so you can read it at home. They may also recommend travel supplies, like a mosquito bed net if you’re visiting a place with Malaria or Japanese Encephalitis.
It’s important to give your travel health provider detailed information about your travel plans and your health status, particularly your mental health status, so that you can get the most out of your appointment. Some health and mental health conditions can be affected by travel or medication. Your provider can also give you tips and advice on managing your condition abroad and what to do in case you need a refill of your prescription, need to access a local doctor, or have a health emergency since some pre-existing conditions, including mental health, may not be covered by your insurance provider.
A note about fees: Travel clinics charge a fee for the consultation and additional fees for travel vaccines. These fees are not covered by government health plans in Canada and the United States. They may or may not be covered by private insurance. Read Travel Vaccines for tips on prioritizing vaccines.
Go to a pharmacy to fill prescriptions from your appointment, such as antimalarial medication or antibiotics to treat severe Travellers’ Diarrhea. This is also a good time to assemble your first aid kit and refill other prescription medication.
If a mosquito bed net was recommended for your trip, you can purchase one at your travel clinic or from travel retailers or outdoor equipment stores. Box-style nets that can be tucked under your mattress offer the best protection because they keep netting (and mosquitoes) away from your skin. Bed nets treated with the insecticide permethrin provide better protection than untreated nets. (Some Canadian travel clinics sell permethrin-treated bed nets but permethrin is not currently available to consumers in Canada.)
Don’t let the precautions discourage you: Using common sense with prevention in mind is the key to a safe and healthy trip.
Check with your national public health agency for listings in other countries.
Last reviewed and updated: December 11, 2020.
Image by rawpixel.com, Pexels