One of the most exciting parts of my practice here at Williamson Medical Group is helping prepare people to stay safe and healthy while traveling abroad. I have been practicing travel medicine for nearly eight years and one reason I love it is because I get to vicariously enjoy other people’s trips around the world.
I have always found tropical and exotic medicine to be fascinating. At the time of my certification by the International Society of Travel Medicine, no other physician in Williamson County was offering travel medicine services. Travelers had to go to Nashville to get immunizations before heading to third-world countries and exotic locales. I saw it as an opportunity to serve the community and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed providing this service.
Safe exotic travel
You might be surprised at the number of people from Middle Tennessee who travel abroad for business, pleasure or mission trips. In our global economy, so many companies have offices all over the world. One of my regular patients works for Bridgestone and routinely travels to West Africa and Brazil to inspect the rubber production there.
But with travel to all corners of the world come risks of infectious diseases for which we as Americans have no immunity. These diseases include yellow fever, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, malaria, Japanese encephalitis and even rabies. In the U.S., you don’t need a vaccination for rabies unless you are a veterinarian. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that travelers to certain third world countries get the rabies vaccination as rabid animals are a significant health risk; especially if your itinerary includes participation in outdoor activities.
Do I need a vaccination?
The best way to know if you need special vaccinations for a trip is to go to the CDC website at www.cdc.gov and check out their recommendations.
In general, any travel to Central or South America, India, Africa or Southeast Asia requires special attention to pre-trip vaccinations for diseases that are potentially deadly. Even cruises to these areas can require some vaccinations. Typically the cruise line will recommend certain vaccinations if your itinerary includes mainland excursions to any of these popular destinations.
We keep all travel vaccines in stock, so we are well prepared to help you be well prepared.
Many of the diseases we are vaccinating against are mosquito-born, such as yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. Others, such as hepatitis A and typhoid fever, are obtained through contaminated food and water. The rest are spread through contact with infected humans.
These are prevalent in other countries mainly because of lack of simple public health and sanitary conditions. Some areas of the world don’t have water treatment or good sewage service. We have such high personal health standards in America that we just don’t have a lot of diseases that stem from unsanitary conditions.
Yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis are catastrophic illnesses with high mortality rates. A travel doctor can advise you about the risk of these diseases based on your travel plans.
Don’t drink the water and watch what you eat
Regardless of whether you are vaccinated or not, I advise people to be careful about what they eat when traveling to exotic places. I say boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it. If you are going to a modernized resort, the food and water will most likely be properly cleaned and prepared.
While you don’t want to offend anyone, you certainly don’t want to put yourself at risk of illness. When people eat fowl such as duck or chicken, it is imperative to make sure it is well cooked and that there is no blood visible in the prepared meat. This will reduce your chances of contracting the avian flu. I also caution people to avoid eating the food sold at street vendors and open-air markets.
Drink bottled water from a reliable source. If bottled water is not available, boil all water for five minutes or use a filtration kit with iodine drops.
I encourage travelers to come in four to six weeks before their trip. Depending on your destination you may need a several different shots. In some cases, complete immunization will require a series of three vaccinations. Sometimes the vaccinations are in short supply due to problems with the manufacturer, so it is important to plan ahead.
Because at least 7 to 10 days are required for an adequate immune response after receiving a vaccination, it is important to factor that into your travel preparation to be certain you have enough of an immune response in your system.
Part of an initial travel medicine evaluation is finding out about a patient’s past health history. The nature of the planned activities should be appropriate for an individual’s current health status. I would want to make certain that a traveler planning a strenuous hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro is physically fit enough for that endeavor.
It is also important to have up-to-date vaccine records. The World Health Organization publishes a standard yellow card that is a record of one’s vaccination history that travelers should keep with them at all times. We provide everyone one of those and recommend it be kept in their passport.
The vaccinations in most cases can be costly. They range from about $60 for the oral typhoid vaccine to $150 for a dose of the yellow fever or Japanese encephalitis vaccines. But you have to look at the big picture and realize these preventions are much less costly than treating the disease itself. An ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure.
More than 10 million Americans travel internationally each year and I’d say only 25 percent of them are properly vaccinated.
The vaccines are very effective and many are good for anywhere from two years to the rest of your life once you have been inoculated.Share this Article