Traveling Abroad Soon? Tips for a Healthy Trip

female traveller texting at airport check-in desk

With summer in full swing, travel season is revving up. A Gallup poll found the majority of adult Americans schedule their vacations in the latter part of July. While many of the travelers who fall into this category plan to stay within the borders of the United States, a large number will travel internationally. Although safety is a major concern for any traveler, regardless of destination, traveling abroad comes with its own set of extra precautions.

Dr. Juan Montoya, family medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Downtown, believes a little extra preparedness and precaution when traveling abroad can make the difference between a safe exotic getaway, and falling ill or sustaining a serious injury in a foreign country.

“When traveling abroad, you must plan the trip ahead of time,” Montoya said. “I advise patients to contact their physician at least a month prior to their trip, to receive recommendations based on the assessment of the risks associated with traveling to their particular destination.”

Dr. Montoya says a physician will consider a variety of factors, including  the time a patient has prior to departure, the itinerary for their trip, the types of lodging, seasonal considerations and the current epidemiology of the preventable diseases in the area to determine what vaccinations or medications the patient will need administered prior to traveling.

Dr. Montoya stressed the importance of patients researching their destination prior to their trip. He also encourages patients to utilize the many travelers’ resources provided online by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). These resources detail the vaccinations or medications required to be immune to the preventable diseases common to particular destinations.

Family with suitcases passing by fountain in tourist resort

According to Dr. Montoya, vaccines necessary for travel fall into three categories:

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Most vaccines usually take at least 14 days of being active in the bloodstream for the body to develop immunity. Unfortunately, travelers often fail to consider this fact when planning their trip.

“Many people don’t realize that immunization vaccines are not effective immediately; I have seen far too many patients come to receive their immunizations only a week in advance,” said Montoya. “Each time I warn them that although they’ve been administered the vaccine, they might not be fully immune during their trip.”

In some cases, a visit to the patient’s primary care physician may not be enough.

“If a patient is traveling to a high risk area with known endemic diseases, their physician will likely refer them to a travel clinic,” said Montoya. “Travel clinics specialize in administering uncommon vaccinations and medications that a physician may not have on hand.”

In addition to the increased likelihood of illness or injury associated with certain destinations, Dr. Montoya says that there are certain populations of travelers who are innately at a greater risk of contracting a travel-based illness or sustaining an injury.

“People who travel for long period of time or stay in rural areas or camping. Patients who have a compromised immune system, such as those with HIV/AIDS are susceptible,” Montoya said. “As well, those who’ve had a recent organ transplant or patients who are undergoing immunosuppressive therapy for chronic medical conditions are vulnerable. Pregnant women and the elderly also are predisposed to contract a disease while traveling abroad.”

Assuming that a traveler received the appropriate vaccinations and medications within the proper time frame prior to their trip, there are a few more considerations that Dr. Montoya advises to ensure an all-around safe trip.

First, be smart when it comes to the food and water you consume abroad.

“People must remember to take into account the water sources which will be available to them at their destination,” Montoya said. “Usually the water supply in developed countries is not concerning. However, if a patient is traveling to a developing country, where the water supply is not properly maintained, I recommend they only drink bottled or purified water.”

“I advise patients to use their common sense when assessing places to eat in foreign countries,” Montoya said. “They should look for places with good hygiene and safe cooking practices. Most importantly, patients should always avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.”

A man and woman walk through the amazon rainforest during the mid morning.

Second, be sure to have health insurance with international coverage.

“Patients should always check with their health insurance provider to determine if they have coverage for their destination,” Montoya said. “If they do not, I’d recommend they purchase a travelers’ insurance policy so that they could receive treatment in case of an incident.”

The U.S. Department of State has detailed information on how to purchase insurance for travel overseas.

Third, be prepared for the small medical incidents or needs.

“It’s always advisable to travel with a first aid kit,” Montoya said. “Personally, I always bring Tylenol® for fever, Ibuprofen for aches, Neosporin® ointment and Band-Aids® in case of a cut and cold or sinus medicine. You never know what you’ll need or when you’ll need it, so make sure these are readily accessible.”

For patients with prescription needs, Dr. Montoya recommends they consult their physician ahead of time to pack enough doses for the trip and any possible delays. It is also important to pack prescriptions properly in their original containers, as well as verify that a prescription drug is legal in the country of destination.

Lastly, keep close eyes on your medical condition after you return.

“If a patient is experiencing symptoms of illness, they should visit their primary care physician immediately to determine if they contracted anything while abroad,” Montoya said. “The physician will decide if further medical attention is necessary.”

Primary care physicians with the Memorial Hermann Medical Group (MHMG) are ready to help you prepare for your next trip, as well as treat any conditions once you return to the Houston area. To schedule an appointment with any of our MHMG primary care physicians, use Schedule Now or call 1-877-704-8700.

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Tashika Varma