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Stay Healthy When You Travel Abroad

Illness is not in anyone's vacation plan. But traveling in good health requires some know-how and advance planning.  If you've scheduled a trip overseas, take steps to help ensure a safe and healthy visit.

The first step towards a healthy visit is to learn what health hazards exist in the country where you are traveling. You may need vaccinations that can protect you from diseases you may encounter at your destination.

A good place to find the information is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "Travelers' Health" website. Here you'll find an array of information on travel and vaccines. You can search by your destination and determine which vaccinations are recommended and which are required by international health regulations.

Do You Need a Travel Vaccine?

The following is a list of the most common vaccines for international travelers. However, these may not be necessary for your particular trip, so it's important to check with the CDC to see if they are recommended or, more importantly, with the U.S. Department of State, to see if they are required. These vaccines may not be covered by routine adult vaccinations, so talk with your doctor before scheduling an appointment.

  • Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is a liver disease that is spread from the hands of a person who is infected and through contaminated food and water. While it's possible to get Hepatitis A in the U.S., travelers to developing countries are even more at risk. Ask your doctor about this vaccine. In order to receive it, you'll have to schedule your appointment well in advance of your trip – it is given in two doses, six months apart.
  • Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids. It is present in nearly every part of the world, including the U.S., but is most common in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America. Most people become infected through unprotected sex or drug use. Talk to your doctor about whether this vaccine is recommended for you. Like Hepatitis A, it is given in multiple doses, so it's important to see your doctor six months to a year before planned travel.
  • Rabies. Rabies is a risk for travelers who may come in contact with both wild and domestic animals, as it is spread by the saliva of infected animals. It is most commonly spread by dogs, but any mammal can contract rabies. The vaccine for rabies is given in three doses over a period of one month. Talk to your doctor if your planned travel calls for contact with animals.
  • Typhoid fever. Typhoid fever is most common in south Asia but is found throughout the world, especially in developing nations. It's spread by contaminated food and water and leads to about 200,000 related deaths per year. The typhoid vaccine is about 50-80% effective and can be administered by pills or a shot. If you're traveling to Asia, Africa or Latin America, your doctor may recommend this vaccination.
  • Yellow fever. Yellow fever is present in certain parts of Africa and South America. It is spread through mosquito bites and can lead to serious illness for about 15% of people who contract the disease. If you're traveling to an area where yellow fever is present, one way to help protect yourself against it is to prevent mosquito bites by wearing protective clothing and insect repellent. You can also speak to your doctor about getting the vaccine at least ten days before your trip.

Make an Appointment

As noted in the list above, many travel vaccines call for a series of shots. That makes it crucial to see your primary care physician or a doctor who specializes in travel medicine at least six weeks (or, in some cases, up to a year) before you depart.

To help the doctor decide which vaccinations you need, be sure to bring this information to your appointment:

  • Which countries you're visiting, what areas of those countries you plan to see, and whether you intend to stay in urban or rural settings
  • Your travel dates
  • If you plan to stay in hotels, hostels with shared living spaces, or outdoors
  • The activities you plan to take part in
  • Your vaccination record
  • Your general health information, including chronic conditions
  • If you're pregnant, breast-feeding, or trying to become pregnant during your trip

Whether you're planning your first trip abroad or your 20th, being informed and taking precautions can help you return home safe and sound.

Sources: Krames Staywell, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WebMD, U.S. Department of State

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