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Quick Travel Advice

OMG! We leave in 2 weeks! Do we need to go see the doctor?

This question is a very common question in many households. With global travel growing by 5% during the first eight months of 2014. Between January and August 2014, 781 million people traveled internationally. Planning your next trip to Mexico or Peru or India or China or perhaps South Africa, is a very exciting experience. The reason for the trip may be on a wish list, or perhaps visiting family and friends or just a trip that you have saved up for and dreamt of. Whatever the reason, the mind starts exploring all kinds of things – where should I stay? do? restaurants? night life? museums? tourists events, etc etc. Trip Advisor is a good go to place for reviews etc. You may have seen a mention of health issues mentioned on a blog, but somehow it seems a distant worry.

The months turn to weeks before “the trip” , more internet research, restaurant reviews wet the appetite. “Oh, do I need a visa?” A thought may come to you on your way to work. The concept of a “travel agent” is not one that comes to mind now when we travel, unless it is a business travel. The internet may have made travel easier, however it marginalized travel agents.

Online searches on thevisa question and luckily with a US passport you need not worry. However, they mention health risks. I read and get a bit anxious about all these potential diseases that my family and I could pick up on our trip.

I put “call Doctor” on my to do list for the morning. I call in the morning, make an appointment to see him later in the week. Ten days to departure, shopping list getting completed. Doctor’s appointment was on a hectic day between work and kids, somehow I forgot to go to the appointment. On my way home I see a Pharmacy that has a yellow neon sign “Vaccines” flashing in the distance, I pull in and run in. The Pharmacy staff is pushing flu vaccines – I hear there is a quota system being used to maximize flu vaccine encounters at the pharmacy. Sensing that this is not where one would get a proper “travel consultation”. I go home and begin an online search for travel health information. ISTM – the International Society of Travel Medicine appears on top of the search page. This organization is a global organization with almost 3,000 members, in 70 countries. Their members can become certified in Travel Health, by passing a written exam.
Wishing I had done this earlier, I make an appointment for a consultation, 2 days before the trip.

At the office visit, the Doctor goes over risks at the destination, and recommends vaccines. However, due to the time factor only certain ones will be effective for the trip. I realize the proper way to plan a trip is to when I decide on a trip, make an appointment with an ISTM certified physician about 4-6 weeks prior to the trip. Packing a travel health kit that includes some OTC medications, insect repellants and other things is also a very important aspect of the pre-trip planning.

Recent world disease outbreaks – Ebola and Chikungunya Fever have been front line news. Getting the proper medical advise is crucial as all it takes is a slip up and then the consequences of that disease will become an issue that you would rather not deal with. Most travel diseases are preventable and treatable. One of the crucial aims of Travel Medicine is “not to bring home any infectious gifts!”. The old adage of “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” is very applicable here.

Rajiv Narula M.D. D.A.B.F.M. CTH
Medical Director
International Travel Health Consultants