Recharge Medical Blog

Recharge Medical
Philippe T. Nguyen

Philippe T. Nguyen, MD
Chief Medical Officer

Everyone makes this mistake before international travel

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Whether you travel for business or pleasure, it’s important to stay healthy so that you can enjoy your travel. A visit to a certified travel health physician or nurse practitioner will equip you to protect your health and get the most out of your travel experience.

Travel health visits are recommended:

  1. for all international travel.

  2. if you are traveling for an extended period of time.

  3. if you are traveling to second-world or third-world locations.

  4. if you are traveling for educational, missionary, or humanitarian work.

  5. if your travel includes activities in which you infrequently participate.

A travel health visit addresses more than just vaccines

Travel vaccines are important, but they are only one part of your travel health. Travel health visits aim to keep you healthy during your travel. This includes:

  • caring for your current medical conditions

  • addressing how travel might affect your health

  • preventing illness

  • preventing infections from spreading

Everyone has a different health status and every trip is unique, so your travel health visit is highly customized to your specific needs. Below are some issues that might apply to you.

Management of current medical conditions

A travel health physician will help you plan the management of your chronic medical conditions while traveling. Two examples:

  • If you take medication daily, how do you manage your regular medication schedule with changes in time zones?

  • How do you maintain a particular diet while traveling and experiencing new foods?

Management of conditions related to travel

Travel puts you in new environments. For example:

  • Airplanes have slightly reduced air pressure and dry air

  • Ski resorts have a change in altitude

  • Different cities will have different air pollution indices

  • Adventure travel can have low or high humidity or sudden changes in sun exposure or temperature

All of these issues can cause changes in your health. Knowing what changes to expect, what is normal, and what might indicate a problem will help you take measures to protect your health.

Manage the risk of infection

  • What can I eat?

  • What animals should I avoid?

  • Do I need mosquito repellant?

  • Is it safe to swim here?

These kinds of questions can be addressed in your travel health visit, and the answers might surprise you. For example, malaria is a low risk in southwest India in January because it is not monsoon season. Or, you might be at high risk of typhoid from eating food or drinking water in your hometown of Nha Trang, Vietnam, if you have not been there for several years since your immune system is no longer able to fight the area’s infections. The answers to these questions are different for everyone. They are related to your health status, your specific travel plans, and the most current medical information about the locations.

Prevent infection with vaccines

Vaccines are critical to protect your health. Vaccines also protect your family, your community, and the people at your destinations. In our interconnected world, disease can enter populations and become an epidemic in days. You actually do need a vaccine for some destinations that you would never think requires them, and some places that you think you need to be vaccinated for everything might actually require a few or no vaccines.

Common mistake: self-diagnosis

Many travelers make the mistake of searching the web to find out which vaccines they need or asking a friend that has been there. Travel vaccines are not always a simple formula of Destination A requires Vaccines X, Y, and Z. The vaccines you need depend on many factors including:

  • the specific location of your travel (not just the country, but the exact locations you will visit)

  • the time of year for your travel

  • the duration you will spend at specific locations

  • what you will be doing at those locations

  • what you will be eating

  • who you will be interacting with

  • what kind of accommodations you will have

  • the most current information on disease patterns

  • your current health status

  • the requirements set by the government at your destination.

Two people going to the exact same location could have very different vaccination needs. A travel health specialist will know what vaccines are right for you.

Get help understanding your vaccine requirements

Vaccines are also often required for specific types of visas, such as missionary work or education programs. Some countries require vaccines in order to enter the country. Some vaccines require multiple doses and need to be administered weeks before possible exposure to the disease for them to be the most effective, so it is important to get your vaccines as soon as you know you will be traveling.

What you need to tell your physician

  • your current health issues and medications—including allergies

  • your past medical history

  • when and where you plan to travel

  • your types of accommodation (e.g., hotel, tent)

  • your modes of travel (e.g., bus tour, backpack)

  • your activities (e.g., conference, rock climbing)

After your trip

You made it home without any signs of illness, but symptoms of many infections can take days, weeks, or months to appear. One famous example is Montezuma's revenge which sometimes won’t show symptoms until 14 days after exposure. But there are other much more nefarious infections such as rabies that might not show up for weeks or months and could cause death. Luckily, these infections are very rare. Still, it is important to keep this in mind. A sudden illness a few months after your travel could be related to something you picked up on your adventures.

Keep a travel health journal during your trip

For this reason, during your travel we recommend that you keep a travel health journal, which is simply a record of your health. It will also help you provide your health care providers with exact information about possible exposures during your travel.

What to write in your journal

  • Where you went and when you were there

  • New things you eat and your reactions to them

  • Any injury, no matter how small

  • Any physical symptoms or illness

  • Over-the-counter drugs or local remedies you took and when

For example, a little scrape on your knee could be an entry point for all kinds of pathogens, and knowing whether the scrape occurred while in a lake or on a bus ride can help determine your likely risk.

In rare cases, your travel health provider will recommend that you have certain health screenings after you return. Example: a veterinary student that spent six months working with livestock in a third-world country might need a screening for parasites.

How to choose your travel health provider

When seeking travel health services and vaccines, we strongly recommend that you choose a physician or nurse practitioner that has been certified by the International Society of Travel Medicine or the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene. These professionals have access to the most current information regarding health concerns around the world, including emerging outbreaks and infection risks. They are skilled at assessing your current health and planning for travel activities and identifying possible illness or infection from travel. Providers with this certification have undergone additional training on illness and disease from around the world, how to prevent illness, and how to treat exotic diseases. It’s important that you find a provider that spends the time to review your health and travel with you. Because so many issues related to your travel health are so specific to your current health as well as your destinations, we do not recommend using services that provide only vaccines and a printed report about your destination.

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