Pre-travel health planning is paramount. Travelers can face a variety of health-related threats while traveling abroad from infectious diseases and injury to exacerbating pre-existing medical conditions. Fortunately, many of these issues can be mitigated and even prevented prior to departure. Let's take a look at some basic and proactive pre-travel health measures you should consider before any international trip.
Visit a Travel Medicine Specialist
Health professionals who specialize in travel medicine are typically able to provide a level of care that often surpasses that offered by a general practitioner or family doctor who is not familiar with current, global health threats. An online directory of private travel clinics around the world can be found on the International Society of Travel Medicine website.
It is important to schedule your appointment at least four to six weeks before travel. This will ensure you have enough time to complete any vaccine series you may need and give your body time to build up immunity. During your appointment, be thorough about all potential destinations you may visit and activities you will participate in. Make sure you are apprised of all health issues relating to your itinerary and counseled on specific risks related to chronic medical conditions. And last but not least be sure to ask your healthcare provider if you are up-to-date on all routine vaccinations. These vaccinations include but are not limited to: Chickenpox (Varicella), Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Influenza, Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR), Pertussis (Whopping Cough), Pneumococcal Pneumonia, and Tetanus and Diphtheria.
Contact Your Health Insurance Carrier
Illness and injury pose perhaps the most immediate risk while traveling abroad, especially in developing countries. According to the US CDC, more than 50 percent of international travelers to developing countries become ill during their trip. Since medical assistance abroad can be extremely expensive, it is important to ensure you have adequate health insurance.
Contact your health insurance carrier to determine if your policy will provide coverage in a foreign country. It is important to note that you may need supplemental travel insurance to ensure you are adequately covered for medical emergencies and evacuations. While traveling, carry your health providers name and contact information for emergency referral. If you have a chronic or ongoing health problem that may require treatment while abroad, be sure to also have a copy of pertinent health records.
Properly Pack Prescription and Over-The-Counter Medications
Another set of health risks includes pre-existing medical conditions, particularly chronic diseases. Chronic diseases can present challenges for travelers because of the medications required for their management. Medications that are legal in one country may be highly regulated or even wholly prohibited in another country. Failure to follow these laws can result in confiscation of medications, imprisonment for drug trafficking, and even the death penalty.
- Obtain and pack a copy of your prescription and a letter from the prescribing medical practitioner stating the name of the drug, dosage and quantity prescribed, the reason the drug is being prescribed, and the health condition for which the medication is being prescribed. While some countries will allow you to carry a 90-day supply of medication, other countries limit this to a 30-day supply or less. Therefore, a certificate/letter from your prescribing medical practitioner can be a very useful document if you have to obtain a prescription from a local medical practitioner.
- All prescription medications and any related documentation should be either carried on the person or stored in carry-on luggage, since checked luggage can be lost, misplaced, and/or delayed. Travelers should keep all prescription medications in their original, correctly labeled containers/packages with the active ingredients of the medication clearly labeled on the container for easy identification at checkpoints. Different medications should not be combined into one container. Travelers should make sure the name on the prescription, the container, and their passport match. Medications should be packed in a clear bag.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medications should be kept in their original container and clearly labeled. They can be packed in checked luggage; however, travelers should consider packing OTC medications in their carry-on luggage, especially if the medication is needed while in flight, near the time of arrival, and/or if it is regulated by the destination country. They should be kept in their original container and clearly labeled. Pack the medication in a clear bag.
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