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How to Avoid Diseases When Traveling Abroad

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Traveling this summer? Get the travel advice and medication you need from First Opinion. Talk to one of our doctors for help

Good health is considered to be one of the most valuable assets to an individual. Yet, after shelling out hundreds of dollars for flights and accommodations and budgeting per diems for meals and entertainment, many vacationers don’t budget for medical expenses related to traveling. Preparations including vaccinations, travel medications, and awareness of overall risk factors will help ensure a hassle-free vacation


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should visit to your doctor or travel medicine clinic four to six weeks before an international trip. Since your body needs time to build up immunity after receiving a vaccine and many vaccines are given in a series over time, getting an early start on your immunizations is the best way to protect yourself. Even if you are making a last-minute trip or plan to leave in less than four weeks, you should still check with your doctor to see if any vaccines or preventive medications might be recommended.

  • The CDC categorizes travel vaccines in three ways – required, recommended, and routine. The only vaccine classified as required is for yellow fever vaccination for travel to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. If contracted, symptoms of yellow fever can turn toxic (15% of cases) and require immediate hospitalization. Since there are no antibiotics to directly treat a bloodborne illness like yellow fever, patients must be monitored over prolonged periods to ensure recovery.
  • Recommended vaccinations are given to protect travelers from illnesses that occur more frequently in other parts of the world. Doctors determine which vaccines are recommended for international travel on an individual basis, taking into consideration your destination, whether you will be spending time in rural areas, the season of the year you are traveling, your age, your overall health status, and your immunization history. You can see the CDC’s recommendations by destination here.
  • Routine vaccinations are those that are normally administered, usually during childhood, in the United States. These include immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, MMR, hepatitis, meningococcus, human papillomavirus, among others. Travelers should should confirm these vaccinations are up to date and that no boosters are required, since many conditions which are rare in the U.S. due to immunity in the general population may be more common in other countries.

Risk Prevention

Beyond vaccinations, there are a few other ailments that can be preventable or treatable with medication:

Malaria. While taking precautions like using bug repellent and mosquito nets may help, there is still a risk of contracting a disease like malaria when traveling in specific countries or regions. If you are headed to an area where you are at risk for malaria, your doctor may recommend getting a prescription for malaria pills. For more details about malaria, read the CDC’s recommendations before talking to you doctor.

Traveler’s Diarrhea. If sanitation and food handling standards are not pristine where you are traveling, you may have less than ideal bowel movements. Bacteria can infect your stomach and intestinal lining and wreak havoc on how you would normally digest food. If you do develop travelers’ diarrhea, our doctors can provide a prescription to help treat the bacterial infection as well as medications for the symptoms.

Before taking off on your vacation or adventure, it’s easy to consult with a First Opinion doctor and make sure you have made the appropriate preparations. Talk to a doctor now.

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