Travelers are not always clear about what medical precautions to take before visiting a foreign country. “People think that there’s sort of a one size fits all inoculation that will cover their bases, but there isn’t,” says Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Emory University, and consultant to the Center for Disease Control. “If you’re a corporate man heading to Bangkok and staying at a five star hotel, you have a totally different risk profile than someone going to volunteer at a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border.”
Before Your Trip
Dr. Kozarsky suggests talking with your primary care physician about your medical history, specifically in the event you have a compromised immune system or are unsure about your vaccination history. Infections like measles and chicken pox are still widespread and untreated throughout the majority of the world. Tell your doctor what sort of actions you’ve planned —a boat trip down the Mekong River will merit more precautions than spa days in Tokyo.
The CDC’s web site, provides a comprehensive list of countries and the precautions or elevated risks of each place. Dr. Kozarsky recommends consulting with the site, but again worries that passengers may not need the same inoculations or medicines in Northern India that they would from the South. Infectious disease hot spots apply to an whole country. Where avian influenza is concerned, she proposes being practical and preventing poultry markets. And though some reports suggest that the Zika Virus is not pandemic in Asia as it is in the Americas, the regions of concern are growing. Pregnant women should stock up on insect repellent and wear clothing that covers their entire body.
Plan to see your doctor four to six weeks before departure to explore the length of stay and the areas you intend to visit. Ensure you’re up to date on routine vaccines, such as measles-mumps-rubbella (MMR), diphtheria-teanus-pertussis, chickenpox, polio, and the annual flu shot.
Travel vaccines and drugs may be necessary depending on where you’re traveling. Hepatitis A and typhoid could be contracted via contaminated food or water, especially when staying in rural areas, but can be prevented with vaccines. Consult with your doctor.
Malaria is still a threat in many regions of Africa and Asia and can be prevented using a prescription medicine taken before and during your journey. Avoid mosquito bites and wear insect repellent using DDT if you’re planning to devote a whole lot of time outside or sleeping outside. While cholera is rare, it’s a risk in certain parts of Africa, India, Myanmar, and Thailand.
Whether traveling for business or trekking in the rainforest, all travelers should read up on the latest health threats at their destination — and see a physician.