Safe Travels: Meds and Vaccines You Should Take

Ever thought about traveling abroad? Ever held off because of concerns about infectious diseases and having to think about vaccines, travel visas, passports, and more?

Key takeaways:
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    Vaccinations may be required to travel abroad.
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    Prepare ahead with preventative meds like tick repellents, antidiarrheals, pain relievers, and antimalarial medications.
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    Traveling abroad can be fun and exciting but requires careful pre-planning to ensure you and your companions remain safe before, during, and after travel.

You aren’t alone, but traveling overseas can be safe if you go the extra mile. Understanding what diseases threaten your health is key to remaining healthy on your travels. Planning ahead of time ensures you obtain vaccines and any preventative medications far enough in advance to prepare you for your journey.

Travel vaccines – are they necessary?

Protecting oneself while traveling remains key to guaranteeing a healthy trip from start to finish and beyond. Risks associated with traveling abroad include:

  • Developing an injury or illness while traveling.
  • Exposure to an infectious bug that is not normally present in the U.S. but commonplace (endemic) at your destination.
  • Exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • Environment-associated risks such as untreated water and waterborne disease exposure, improperly cooked foods, and foodborne illnesses.

Many infectious diseases exist outside of the U.S. Some may be foodborne illnesses, while others are airborne or waterborne. Some may be vaccine-preventable, while others may require oral meds to prevent infection. Finally, basic common sense and knowing the safety level of the local water, food, and restaurants go a long way.

  • Never drink untreated water – Pack water purifier tablets in case bottled water isn’t readily available.
  • Avoid eating food off a buffet – especially in areas where improperly washed foods or foods washed with untreated water are likely.
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked foods.

Vaccinations to consider for travel abroad

When traveling outside the U.S., diseases well controlled by vaccination campaigns, such as polio, measles, mumps, and even rubella, still exist and may pose a threat if you weren’t vaccinated. Other diseases, like Yellow fever, commonly seen in various regions of Africa and South America, aren’t a threat stateside but could be a concern depending on your travel plans.

The World Health Organization recommends reviewing routine vaccinations before traveling, including:

  • Measles, Mumps, & Rubella (MMR).
  • Hepatitis B.
  • Tetanus.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Meningitis causing organism).
  • Varicella (chickenpox vaccine or natural infection).
  • Seasonal flu (influenza).
  • Pertussis (whooping cough).
  • Poliovirus.

Additional vaccines suggested for travelers vary with the destination region but may include:

  • Cholera.
  • Hepatitis A.
  • Hepatitis E.
  • Japanese Encephalitis.
  • Meningococcal Disease.
  • Rabies.
  • Typhoid fever.
  • Yellow fever.

How long are you protected?

How long does the protection from vaccinations last? The answer depends on each vaccine and the disease itself. Some vaccines may last a lifetime, while others should be repeated annually. Still, some may be needed every 10 years; it varies with each vaccination.

Even though entable vaccine-pre diseases like polio, measles, and mumps were eradicated in Northern America, they still exist naturally in many other parts of the world. Making sure you have all childhood and routine vaccines currently will allow protection vs. these diseases. So, while other diseases not in the U.S. pose health risks, don’t forget about childhood diseases and childhood vaccines.

How far in advance do I get vaccinated?

Immunizations are ideally advised at least 4 to 6 weeks before departure. As a result, the immune system is given enough time to respond to vaccinations. Additionally, if any require a booster, time is given for both the original shot and the booster shot prior to takeoff.

Medications for vacations

You always want to be prepared for the what if. Making sure you have supplies in case you are injured, develop diarrhea, get car sick, are seasick, or develop diarrhea, helps ensure you are ready for fun and any setbacks. Preparation before travel includes finding out from your local healthcare travel specialist what supplies you should take with you and what meds you may want to prevent disease (prophylaxis).

Malaria Prophylaxis

Malaria is often the first disease on the minds of countless people intending to travel. Still, many incorrectly assume it exists only in far-off places like Africa. However, mosquitoes are abundant in many of the world's wonderful travel destinations. Check with your physician, travel websites, and other resources to know if you will be at risk while traveling. Don’t just assume you are safe, as traveling to many areas puts you at risk.

Malaria prevention options

Malaria (Plasmodium spp.), an infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes, causes a fever along with many other symptoms and long-term effects. Prevention is of the utmost importance.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the medication you take while traveling to prevent a malarial infection varies. Factors in drug selection include:

  • Country of travel (type of malaria species in the area and drug resistance patterns).
  • Any pre-existing medical conditions .
  • Any possible side effects.
  • Drug interactions with other medications taken.
  • Any allergies to medications or ingredients within certain medications.
  • Patient’s age.

Medications prescribed by a physician for malaria prevention include Malarone® (Atovaquone/Proguanil), Chloroquine, Doxycycline, Mefloquine, Primaquine, Tafenoquine (ArokodaTM). These medication options all have varying degrees of risk and side effects associated with them.

Regardless of the medication chosen, none provides 100% protection. So ensuring you practice other protective behaviors such as using long-sleeves and pants, using mosquito netting or pretreated bedding with insecticide, and applying personal insect repellent in addition to any preventative meds is key.

Speak to your physician about what preventative medication will work best for you, your family, and your travels. Your current health status, overall risk, other medicines you take, and other factors play a role in selecting an anti-malarial drug. What is right for you may not be right for your neighbor or family member.

Don’t forget to pack a few essentials

Infectious diseases and vaccines shouldn’t be your only focus. Protecting yourself from insects (who carry some contagious diseases), treating minor ailments like a headache, or treating that awful sunburn may be necessary. Be prepared. Always be sure you have safe and recommended products and include the following in your pack list:

  • Insect repellents, such as Deet®, protect against ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, and other biting pests and insects (some of whom carry diseases).
  • Antidiarrheal medications like Immodium and other G.I. upset medications such as antacids or antinausea medications.
  • Possible oral antibiotics that would treat the common traveler’s associated diarrheal diseases.
  • Pain medications such as Tylenol and anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Aloe vera or your favorite sunburn remedy.

Additional supplies to consider include:

  • Your prescription meds and a few days extra in case.
  • Any glasses and glass cases.
  • Contacts and related supplies.
  • Motion sickness meds.
  • Cough drops, lozenges, or related meds.
  • Allergy meds.
  • Sleep aids.
  • Laxatives.
  • Hand sanitizer.

Consult a travel specialist

Before you plan to travel, set up an appointment with your primary care physician (if they have expertise in travel medicine) or a specialized travel clinic, even your local health department may have a travel service. Ensure you have a copy of all vaccinations to date and provide that information on your evaluation.

At your appointment, the healthcare provider will ensure you are educated about any diseases you may be at risk for and discuss the pros and cons of vaccines and any preventative medications necessary for your overseas adventures. Recommendations may vary depending on your travel itinerary, travel duration, current vaccination status, how soon you need to travel, and other factors.

Be prepared

All too often, people plan exotic trips to far-off places without thinking of the risks that lay ahead. Why would we want to? Most of us plan that trip for work or vacation, thinking about the end goal. However, having the foresight to discover what infectious diseases and other ailments could pose a health risk may prevent debilitating disease, prevent a week or two of illness, or even save your life. Take the time to speak with travel specialists and learn what vaccines and preventative medications may help keep you and your travel companions safe in your activities.

Leaving the U.S. can be fun, thrilling, exciting, and awe-inspiring, but be safe, take precautions, and understand which vaccines and preventative drugs could help make your trip amazing from start to finish.

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