So you just decided to head out on your next adventure to Botswana, or maybe you decided to take a trip to Kenya this summer. Either way, a trip to a developing or foreign country can pose some health risks of which you should be aware before traveling.
Before founding Remedy Urgent Care, a mobile urgent care service in Austin, Texas, my family and I lived in Ethiopia, where I was the Chief Medical Officer at a charity hospital.
In my time as a doctor overseas, I saw firsthand the mistakes travelers made when leaving the U.S. Here are a few practical steps you can follow to make sure your trip overseas is an enjoyable one.
Learn about your destination
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers great resources to learn about the potential health risks of your specific destination. Does Cambodia have malaria? Should I get a yellow fever vaccine for my trip to Uganda? You can search country-specific guidelines for virtually any destination in the world at cdc.gov/travel.
This is a good time to think about getting travel insurance, as well. If you’ll be traveling to a remote or underdeveloped country, make sure you have health and evacuation insurance. This insurance often only costs a few dollars a day, but it could literally be a lifesaver if you needed to be evacuated for medical reasons.
Consult a doctor
It’s also a good idea to consult with a medical provider before you leave the country. The provider can recommend which vaccines you should receive and what types of prophylactic medications you should carry with you. She can also evaluate you to ensure you’re healthy enough to travel. Planning on climbing Kilimanjaro but not sure if your asthma will give you a problem? These are the types of things you want to find out before you go, not when you’re there.
Vaccines will be an important topic to cover with your provider before you go. Make an effort to compile a list of vaccines that you have had and the dates on which you received them. Mandatory vaccines vary from country to country, and knowing which ones you’ve already received can determine which additional shots you need prior to travel.
Pack essential health products. If you won’t have access to basic medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), be sure to pack some. Your doctor may recommend a course of antibiotics to have on-hand in case traveler’s diarrhea strikes. Or, if malaria is a problem in your destination, you’ll need a prescription for malaria preventative medicine.
Be cautious while abroad
Now that you’ve adequately prepared for your trip, be careful while you’re there. Here are a few pointers for traveling in less-developed places:
- Don’t drink from the tap. Always drink bottled water. And don’t eat salads or produce unless it is something you can peel, like a banana, mango or orange. Make sure ice you consume was made with purified water.
- Use insect repellent and wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing if you will be out at dusk in countries where malaria, Zika and yellow fever are found.
- Always wear a seatbelt, even in the back seat. Roads in many countries are not always as safe as ours. Sometimes, travelers forget routine actions that they would always do when home—like wearing your seatbelt. So be safe and buckle up!
- Wear protective gear when engaging in adventure activities like ropes courses and river rafting, for example. Don’t cut corners on your health and safety when you’re seeking thrills overseas.
- Everyone usually wants to relax, kick back and enjoy a vacation—which is how it should be—but do everything in moderation and always be aware of your surroundings.
It’s a good idea to register with the U.S. Department of State before traveling. If anything were to happen in your destination country, the U.S. embassy can help you more easily if they know you’re there. You’ll also get email briefings on things that are happening in that area.
Pay attention to your health once you’re back
You should pay special attention to any symptoms that develop after returning home. A fever (temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) after traveling should definitely prompt an evaluation by a physician. The doctor will want to know to what countries you traveled and when, as well as when the fever and other symptoms started relative to those dates. Always continue taking malaria prophylaxis for the full course prescribed after returning home. If you traveled to a Zika-endemic area, be sure to follow the CDC guidelines regarding protecting yourself and others..