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Health Information Travel Medicine: What to Know
Before You Plan to Go

For most travel abroad all you need to plan is where youre going to stay and what you plan to see. Your biggest concern usually is to remember to bring your passport and plane tickets. There are some destinations, however, that call for a little more planning, especially those that require vaccinations.

Of course, you should be up to date with all your vaccinations and boosters before you travel anywhere, says James B. McAuley, MD, MPH, director of pediatric infectious disease at Rush University Medical Center. He has trained in both pediatric and adult infectious disease. McAuley is an expert in tropical medicine and parasitology and has worked with the CDC throughout South America and Africa. If you are traveling with children, you will also want to make sure that they are up to date on their vaccinations and see if theres anything additional they may need for a particular destination.

The need for travel medicine has grown, because more people are traveling and many are choosing adventure vacations like trips to the South American rainforest or an African safari says Kamaljit Singh, MD, an attending physician with the section of infectious diseases at Rush. He is an expert in tropical medicine, infectious disease and clinical microbiology. He has done infectious disease work in Southeast Asia, Nepal and Australia.

There are many travel locations where youre more likely to be exposed to diseases and parasites with which your body is unfamiliar. There are some illnesses that are prevalent in other countries that we are not exposed to in the United States, says McAuley. Thats why its so important to be prepared and protected with all the proper vaccinations and information.

Singh notes that these diseases can be very complex to diagnose and treat. Thats why its so important to have the pre-travel vaccinations and the knowledge to avoid being exposed to these diseases in the first place.

Its not just yourself that youre protecting with a vaccination, Singh says. You can bring a strain of a virus like measles, for example back home that could spread and cause problems for your entire city or region.

Planning Ahead
Its important to plan your visit to the doctor about three to four months before you plan to travel. You want to give yourself some time to get all the vaccinations and give your immune system time to respond before you go, says McAuley.

  • To find out what vaccinations are suggested for the country that youre planning to visit, go to the Travel Medicine and Immunization Clinics Information by Destination Country page.

Besides vaccinations, a travel medicine specialist can help you with information about medical and health concerns you should be aware of during your trip and after your return.

We have so much more to offer travelers than we used to, says Singh. We have more and better vaccinations, a better understanding of tropical illnesses like travelers diarrhea and how to prevent or treat it, information on insect avoidance and malaria chemoprophylaxis, etc.

Our goal is not just the prevention of infectious diseases but to educate and inform travelers so that they are aware of issues of personal safety while abroad, access to medical care if you fall ill, etc., Singh says. We like to start this process with a travel risk assessment based on the travelers medical history, travel destination/activities and prior immunization record.

Traveling with Children
While getting sick can be dangerous for adults, especially older adults and anyone whose immune system is compromised, you have to take extra care with children, especially infants and toddlers. A child can quickly become dehydrated from anything that causes them to vomit or have diarrhea, says McAuley. They can be more vulnerable to getting these illnesses because they are more likely to put things in their mouths or not question food that is available to them.

Rabies is another thing that children may be more frequently exposed to, says McAuley. Kids are more likely to interact with a strange dog or wild animal. Its a matter of being extra vigilant during your trip.

When You Return
If youre feeling healthy when you get back theres no real need for a doctors visit, says McAuley. But if youre not feeling well, especially if the illness is accompanied by a fever, you should get into contact with your doctor as soon as possible.

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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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