How to Stay Healthy Abroad

International travel health safety tips

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

Your passage abroad is booked and your hotel room is reserved. But before you pack your bags and head out, it may be wise to consider one more important factor: your health.

Traveling abroad can expose you to a number of risks — from infectious diseases to foodborne illness to transportation incidents. But with a little planning and research, you may be able to help keep that exciting trip fun and safe.

David Winter, MD, chief clinical officer, president and chairman of the board of Baylor Health Care System's HealthTexas Provider Network, shared his top international travel tips with dailyRx News.

Verify Your Vaccinations

Depending on where you're headed, you may need to update your vaccinations.

"Certain countries require vaccines and won't let you into the country without documentation that you've had them," Dr. Winter said.

How do you find out if your destination is among these countries?

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a website — look under 'Travel Medicine' and it will tell you what you need to have in certain countries," Dr. Winter said.

Examples of possible vaccines you may need may include immunizations for yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis, tetanus and the flu.

Watch out for the Water

Unfortunately, there aren't vaccines for every illness you might encounter abroad.

"Diarrheal illness you get from bad water is very common out there," Dr. Winter said.

Traveler's diarrhea is marked by unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms usually caused by an infectious agent in food or water that a traveler is not accustomed to, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"I like to say first try to avoid it," Dr. Winter said. "Don't drink the water, don't drink anything that has ice made from the bad water, don't eat the salad that was rinsed in the bad water — and you're less likely to need anything."

However, it may not be a bad idea to take diarrhea medication with you, just in case you do experience symptoms.

"Your doctor may also want to give you some antibiotics to take just in case you get one of those ... illnesses, but be sure to ask for instructions when to take it and when not to take it," Dr. Winter said.

Pack for Protection

There may also be other medications you should pack before going on an international trip.

"These are over-the-counter allergy medications, anti-inflammatory medications for aches and sprains, maybe some pain pills over-the-counter, even sleep medications over-the-counter are safe to take," Dr. Winter said. "If you need something stronger, talk to your doctor. You can get prescription pain medications or prescription sleep medications, if he or she thinks that is appropriate for you."

These medications may depend on your particular health needs and the nature of your destination. For instance, you might want to take medication for altitude sickness if you are going to a mountainous region, or you might need malaria medication if you are going to the tropics, according to Dr. Winter.

Preparation Is Key

The bottom line is to be prepared ahead of time, which might also include getting traveler's insurance. According to Dr. Winter, these policies can help you get back home if there is an emergency, or cover you if a health issue occurs overseas.

"So talk to your doctor, look at the CDC website, and plan ahead," Dr. Winter said.

Review Date: 
June 9, 2015