Part of a continuing series of columns from the Nashoba Valley Medical Center.
If you are traveling abroad, whether to China on business, Africa for charity-related work or India for pleasure, visiting a travel medicine clinic is important.
The specialty of travel medicine was developed to prepare and protect the increasing number of people who travel, for business or pleasure, to those international destinations that are still considered biological risks. Travel medicine clinics provide pre-travel evaluation, counseling and immunizations for international travelers.
Nashoba Valley Medical Center’s International Travel Clinic provides the following answers to common questions about travel medicine.
Why is travel medicine important and who should use travel medicine services?
Travel is an essential part of life – people travel for business, for pleasure and to reconnect with family and friends. But there are health risks when we travel, especially overseas. A travel medicine specialist attempts to lower those risks. Anyone traveling overseas should consult a specialist unless they are traveling to Canada, Northern Europe, Japan, Australia or New Zealand where the health risks are considered equivalent to traveling within the United States.
What are some of the most common health risks associated with international travel?
The most common risks are Traveler’s Diarrhea and injuries in motor vehicle accidents.
There are also serious diseases in other countries, such as malaria, yellow fever, typhoid fever, rabies, hepatitis, dengue fever, Japanese Encephalitis, schistosomiasis and more. Also, the Zika virus has dominated the news headlines over the past several months. Our information about the Zika virus is still growing, and it is important for anyone who is at-risk of being exposed to the virus to stay current with the latest developments via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov).
How can a travelers’ clinic treat or prevent these types of diseases?
Travelers meet with the clinic’s clinician to establish their medical history, review their upcoming itinerary, and determine the medical risks for their particular state of health and their particular trip. They are given the immunizations indicated for their trip, prescriptions for diarrhea and malaria as needed, and advice on avoiding insect bites, on lowering their risk for diarrhea, what to do in the case of an animal bite, and much more. Available immunizations provided at the clinic include chicken pox, hepatitis A and B, influenza, Japanese encephalitis, measles, mumps and rubella, meningitis (meningococcal), polio, rabies (preventive rabies series), tetanus, typhoid, and yellow fever. Routine vaccinations are also offered to patients as long as they have a prescription.
How far in advance of a trip should someone visit a travelers’ clinic?
Since most vaccines require 10 to 14 days to induce the body to produce protective antibodies, two weeks is usually the minimum time allowance. Some countries will require that specific vaccines be given no less than 10 days prior to arrival in the country. Other vaccines need to be given over a period of four weeks. Nevertheless, sometimes business travelers are given very little notice of upcoming trips or emergencies may come up. In these cases, we will offer the best possible service within the shortened time frame.
If a person has been living in the U.S. for years, do they need to visit the travel clinic when returning to their home country?
Yes. Travelers returning to visit friends and relatives in their country of origin are actually at increased risk of infectious diseases. This is likely due to living in homes rather than hotels, and therefore being less careful in their eating habits and less vigilant in protecting themselves from disease-carrying insects.
So, if you are planning a trip abroad make sure visiting a travel medicine clinic is a top priority before you jet off.