The Medical Minute: A checklist for staying healthy overseas

A woman paddles a kayak in a calm, tropical bay.

If you’re planning an international trip this year, you’re already managing an extensive checklist to help you remember to find your passport, book flights and research local attractions. While planning an overseas adventure can be overwhelming, don’t forget to include a few key preventive measures to help keep you healthy during your travels, like getting the appropriate shots, packing the right medications and, most importantly, booking an appointment with a travel medicine clinic.

May 5, 2022Penn State Health News

“It’s important to secure the proper vaccinations for your entire itinerary and discuss any potential risk factors with a travel clinic doctor,” said Dr. Andrew Walker, the travel medicine physician at Penn State Health Travel Medicine at Penn State Health Urgent Care ― Camp Hill.

Here’s a checklist to help ensure you stay healthy during your travels:

Book a visit to a travel medicine clinic.

Unlike a family doctor, a travel medicine physician is an expert on health risks and vaccination requirements for countries all around the world.

Make sure the doctor you see is a licensed physician with plenty of travel experience. “The personal experience of a travel medicine physician is important,” Walker said. “It’s not something that can be learned from books.” It’s also best if the doctor has experience with certain activities of your interest– say scuba diving, high-altitude mountaineering or ice climbing – to give you practical advice and help you manage any risks.

During a consultation, the travel medicine physician crafts personalized recommendations for you based on your trip and your health. The doctor will need to know your exact itinerary, including which regions you plan to see. You’ll also need to discuss any underlying medical conditions. This will be crucial if, for example, you have heart disease and are planning to travel to a high-altitude location.

Make sure you’re properly vaccinated.

Overseas travel comes with an increased risk of exposure to infections like hepatitis A, hepatitis B and tetanus as well as diseases like measles, mumps and rubella and polio. Make sure you receive your seasonal Influenza vaccine and that you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots.

You may require more specific vaccinations depending on which country and region you’re visiting. These kinds of vaccinations include yellow fever, typhoid fever, Japanese encephalitis and meningitis. Giving a travel clinic doctor your exact itinerary will help them determine which vaccinations you’ll need.

People should generally schedule vaccinations at least four weeks before travel. Ultimately, simply ensuring you are properly vaccinated is more important than the timing. “Any protection is better than no protection,” Walker said.

Stock up on prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.

Before you leave, stop by a pharmacy to make sure you have enough of any prescription medications to cover your trip and stock up on handy over-the-counter remedies. Because travelers can be more susceptible to stomach problems, Walker highly recommends medications for indigestion, especially if you have any food sensitivities. Pack pain medications like Tylenol or Aleve and always grab an antibiotic ointment and bandages for minor cuts or blisters.

Depending on where you’re headed and which activities you’ve got planned, you may want to bring medications for traveler’s diarrhea, sea or altitude sickness. Those medications can be prescribed by your travel medicine clinic. Pack sunblock and, most importantly, insect repellent as many disorders are transmitted by mosquitoes.

By taking a few precautionary measures, you can board your flight prepared to stay safe and healthy throughout your trip.

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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