So you're going to travel to a remote place in the world?
It's expensive. And you've scrimped and saved for it. Don't make the mistake of believing you don't need a travel medicine workup. Skipping a real travel visit is a big mistake.
Before you go anywhere, know what you need to do to protect yourself from harmful bacteria, illnesses, and disease born food/drink. Understand that there is a difference between seeing your family medicine provider and seeing a travel medicine specialist.
An experienced travel medicine provider will spend about 30-40 minutes examining you, getting specific details of your travel arrangements, taking a thorough history, and customizing a medication plan to help you have a great trip. It's good to know your family provider can see if you are current on your immunizations, but there is a whole lot more than checking shots at a visit. Don't compare apples to oranges when it comes to these specialty visits.
Why do I know? Because, I work with humanitarians who travel all over the world, often working in the most remote places in third world countries (where the most basic creature comforts are lacking). One of the biggest concerns about travel to these places is the need to protect yourself from dangerous diseases and childhood infections that are acquired through contact with contaminated water and food.
If you are planning on travel you must be proactive and protect yourself. Yes, get current on all your shots. Find out where you are going specifically. How you'll be traveling(plane, car, train, ect...). What cities are you hubbing out of and what are the disease risks? What are the country health requirements? What kinds of accommodations will you have?
3 months before travel
First find your immunization records. Look to see if you are current. Typically your family healthcare provider should have your complete shot record if you see them annually. If you are registered in school, they would have a copy of your current record (as the law requires it).
Next, set up an appointment and meet with a travel healthcare provider/prescriber who is familiar with travel medicine (most family doctors are not up-to-date on current requirements in their general practice for a basic 10 minute visit). If you go to the health department requesting shots for your area of travel, you will meet with a travel medicine nurse who will charge you about $75.00 for advising you first. Shots will be additional. The health department does not take insurance and you will asked to pay for the assessment and shots at the time of visit so come with cash.
Note: some pharmacies specialize in travel medicine and they can give immunizations (with a written prescription from a provider) to persons over the age of 11 but they don't do travel exams. Most family medicine offices do not regularly carry the expensiveimmunizations (that expire quickly) for travel to a remote areas. Some of these pharmacies additionally carry the rare prescription medicines that fight malaria and are often open on the weekends. Travel medicine assessments by a pharmacist cost about $80.00 per person plus the cost of immunizations and medications. Plan on setting up an appointment with the and bringing in your immunization records or a letter from your health provider.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is a good resource for looking up how to prepare for travel to the country you are visiting. It contains information on the kinds of shots and protection you may need. It describes in detail the types of medicines that are available to combat local diseases but it must NOT take the place of wise counsel from a travel medicine provider who is familiar with your health history and can interpret what would work best for you! The website does not have the same travel information a travel provider has and should not take the place of a travel workup.
1 month before travel
After meeting with your travel medicine provider and getting the proper vaccinations, start taking the prescribed medicines before you travel as recommended. If you are taking Typhoid medication, it typically is started 2 weeks before travel and you can't take it when you are taking other medications. When you do travel, be sure to plan on packing your travel medications in your carry-on luggage and saving the extra for use at home when you return. Don't stop taking your medications before you are done with the regimen. Don't take advice from non-health professionals who don't take their prescribed medications. Never risk your health--you can't afford to be sick with poor access to care or upon your return home.
A travel medicine provider will advise you on other health preparation you will need before you to travel. Obtaining water treatment items, toiletries, protective bug spray, mosquito netting, insect repellent clothing, and insect repelling liquids to treat clothes, bedding, and mosquito netting is a step not to skip. Also, be sure to set aside germicidal lotions for use (but avoid placing them in your carry on bags due to airline liquid restrictions).
Your immunization history
Routine vaccines (shots),are for influenza (flu), chickenpox (or varicella), polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), and diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) and are given atall stages of life.
Even if you don’t regularly travel, routine vaccines are recommended and necessary to maintain your health. Childhood diseases, like measles, rarely occur now in the United States, but are quite common in under developed nations. Your exposure to those diseases puts you at risk for acquiring them even if you have gotten those vaccines in the past. Should you travel, and not be current on your shots (vaccinations) your risk acquiring these childhood infections goes up exponentially.
Most people don't like to think about getting ill or having an accident during their travels but the fact is that most tourist accidents involve some kind of motor vehicles. Make sure you have a health management plan should you become hurt or ill in the country you are visiting.
Many travelers obtain travel insurance so they can see health providers or be taken to the nearest country for proper medical care. Purchase the traveler's insurance that allows you to be transported out of the country should you get into a serious accident. The little amount it costs can save you thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Make the best of your time, money, and be safe when traveling. We only have one life to live--let's live it well!