Traveling abroad can be exciting, educational, and lots of fun. The last thing you want is for your trip to be spoiled by a health emergency. You can’t always prevent medical emergencies, but understanding the health risks for travelers can help you plan and prepare to stay healthy and safe.
What are some of the health risks for travelers?
Health risks vary depending on your travel destination. Sometimes your biggest worry will be finding a power converter for your phone charger. Other times you have to worry about finding clean, potable water, or preventing disease or travel-related illnesses.
Change in climate
Changes in climate can create health risks for travelers. Be careful of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses in hot climates. Hypothermia and frostbite are dangers in cold climates. Dehydration can occur in any type of climate.
You may find yourself in direct sunlight more than you are accustomed to while you travel. UV exposure is greater at higher altitudes. Be sure to wear sun protective clothing and apply sunscreen to exposed skin.
Change in altitude
Changes in altitude can cause more than just a sunburn. There’s less oxygen in the air the further away you get from sea level. You should be cautious at high elevations, but also pay attention to the difference in elevation. There could be several thousand feet of elevation change between your home and your travel destination. Give your body time to acclimate, especially if you plan on exercising or doing strenuous activities such as hiking or biking.
Animals and insects
You should never approach wild animals, but even domesticated animals can carry diseases such as rabies in some parts of the world. Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, ticks, and flies can transmit a wide range of diseases.
Clean drinking water is readily available in the United States, but there are places even in the U.S. where you shouldn’t drink water without treating it first. Research your travel destination and learnt whether you should bring a water filtration or water purification system.
Your destination could be quite different from what you are accustomed to. There may not be ready access to hospitals, grocery stores, or a wireless signal. Maybe there’s no electricity or running water.
These are just a few of the things that can pose health risks for travelers. Do your homework and learn about the area that you are going to visit. Also, it’s important that you talk to your primary care physician before traveling abroad.
Talk to your doctor before you travel
Your physician can help you prepare for your international travel through a pre-travel consultation. During a pre-travel assessment, you will receive appropriate immunizations and counseling regarding prevention of malaria, diarrheal diseases, and other travel-related illnesses.
Helpful Tip: The best timing for a travel consult is 4 to 6 weeks prior to the date of departure.
Your physician can offer advice regarding the care of chronic medical problems while traveling abroad and help coordinate any prescription medication you may need while traveling.
Martin Hannon, MD and Jody Francisco, APRN at MANA Family Medicine in Rogers are certified by the Arkansas Department of Health in international travel medicine, including offering travel vaccines such as:
* Yellow fever vaccine (availability pending)
* Japanese encephalitis
* and other travel-related diseases.
The more your doctor knows about your travel plans, the better he or she can help you make plans to stay safe, healthy, and enjoy your trip. It may not cross your mind to tell your doctor that your travel destination doesn’t have running water, or that it’s 8,000 feet above sea level, but this is important information.