Here’s why you should schedule a visit with a doctor after you confirm your reservations.
Planning a trip to exotic Africa, or Spring Breaking in Aruba? Dr. Michael Zuckman, an Internal Medicine specialist with White Plains Hospital Medical & Wellness in Armonk, reviews the health to-dos you need to check off before you jet off.
For starters, everyone should be up to date on their routine immunizations, including measles-mumps-rubella, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, chickenpox, polio and the annual flu shot.
Beyond those, your doctor may recommend additional immunizations based on certain risks in your destination country. Some vaccinations require several doses spaced out over months, and not all offices stock every vaccine you may need, which is why it’s important to make an appointment the minute you book the reservations.
“If you want to have a safe and healthy vacation, these things should be thought about as much in advance as possible,” says Dr. Zuckman. “Even if you forget and wait till the last minute, it’s better to have partial immunity than no immunity.” Most vaccinations take 7 to 10 days to kick in, he says.
Be sure to bring your exact itinerary with you to your appointment, because where and how you plan to travel within a certain country matters. Will you be camping in the open air or glamping in a screened hut? Going to the mountains, or staying in the suburbs? “If you are going to be high up in mountains, for instance, you don’t need anti-malaria medicines,” Dr. Zuckman says. “And certain big cities don’t have big mosquito populations.”
Some shots your doctor might recommend include:
Typhoid – Travelers to Asia, Africa, Latin American and Caribbean Islands are at highest risk of this form of salmonella poisoning, spread through contaminated food or water.
Hepatitis A – Another food borne illness from salmonella prevalent in the same countries mentioned above – and even some Eastern European countries. Hepatitis A is part of normal childhood vaccinations, so people under 20 are probably covered, but older adults may not be.
Hepatitis B – If you are going to a location where sexual contact may be likely with the local population, don’t overlook this vaccine. This vaccine is also given routinely in the childhood sequence of shots.
Yellow Fever – Those 9 months of age and older visiting Africa or South American countries should be vaccinated against yellow fever, a mosquito borne illness common in tropical areas. “Travelers visiting a country where Yellow Fever is prevalent may be quarantined upon return to the US without proof of this vaccination,” notes Dr. Zuckman, who holds special certification needed to administer this vaccine.
Malaria – Similarly, medication against Malaria is recommended for those planning a vacation to tropical areas with a high proportion of mosquitoes infected with this parasite. Anti-Malaria medicines are not 100% effective so you still need to take precautions, like using mosquito repellant and wearing protective clothing.
Rabies – Planning an adventure trip involving caving, hiking or climbing? Or are you going on a safari or plan to be feeding animals? You should consider getting a rabies shot.
Japanese Encephalitis – This viral brain infection, also spread by mosquitoes, is most common in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Far East. It’s also very rare, so check with your doctor if he/she thinks it’s necessary.
(Find more information about specific vaccinations based on destination at the CDC’s website: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list)
Protect yourself from bites
Mosquito bites are also responsible for the viral illnesses: Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya. Zika is especially dangerous for pregnant women and their partners, and couples planning to become pregnant in the next 6 months. Use a mosquito repellent containing permethrin when going outdoors in areas known for mosquitos, especially at dawn and dusk, and ask your doctor if it is safe to travel.
Take a first aid kit
Dr. Zuckman recommends antiseptics like hydrogen peroxide or Betadine, antibiotic ointments, bandages, anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines. While we are used to a drugstore on every corner, not every country offers such conveniences and having basic supplies on hand could prevent a simple injury from getting worse fast.
Finally, pay attention to what you eat
Food-borne illnesses like the norovirus have taken over entire cruise ships and ruined many a family vacation. Watching what and where you eat is one of the best ways to fend off sickness in areas of the world where health care is less developed. “I would not eat from food carts and street vendors,” notes Dr. Zuckman. “Avoid eating uncooked foods, and drinking non-bottled or unboiled beverages. Skinned fruits once peeled are essentially safe, but generally don’t eat uncooked fruits and vegetables.”