More Americans travel abroad during summer months than any other time of the year. According to William Halford, M.D., family medicine physician at Williamson Medical Group, too few are taking the necessary precautions to prevent illness and disease often acquired overseas.
A member of the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM), Halford stays abreast of world health issues and constantly changing guidelines. “We live in a global economy and travel today is easier than ever before, which means more Americans are traveling for business, pleasure and mission trips,” said Halford.
Halford said the biggest misconception among otherwise healthy travelers is the belief that they’re simply not going to get sick. “I often hear, ‘I’ve gone before and didn’t get sick, so why should I worry about vaccinations now?’,” Halford said. That belief is especially prevalent among those returning to their country of birth to visit friends and family. Protection from food- and insect-born illness is of primary concern when traveling abroad. Altitude sickness and extreme climate change should also be considered, and ISTM members like Halford also monitor the political and social climate in various regions. “There are a lot of unstable places today, so I encourage patients to check the state department before booking travel and find out how safe it is for Americans,” he said.
Since vaccination requirements vary by country (and often require second doses), Halford said it’s imperative to see a provider who is well-versed in travel medicine at least six weeks prior to travel. Depending on the destination, it’s not uncommon to receive one to six vaccinations as well as pills for malaria and traveler’s diarrhea. Yellow fever presents the greatest health risk for visitors to South America and Central Africa, while rabies remains rampant in many African countries. Alternatively, visitors to Europe may only require a flu shot as protection against recycled air on crowded planes and buses. Since guidelines change regularly, Halford cautions against now popular shot clinics which may not be updated on the latest recommendations and interactions, or have ISTM providers on hand.
“When patients come and see me we talk about travel, health, current prescriptions, vaccine history and their itinerary,” Halford said. “You really have to get a detailed account of where each individual is traveling to, as that makes a huge difference in recommendations.” He also considers existing conditions like asthma, heart disease and diabetes, which can be affected by certain regions, and arms patients with travel recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as a vaccination record to keep with their passport.
Halford tells patients to take common sense precautions while traveling: Have a first-aid kit on hand at all times, and carry routine medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and antihistamines. Travelers should use common sense in knowing which foods to eat and avoid, and consider road and animal safety, sun exposure and sexual activity while abroad. Purchase travel insurance to help cover the costs of health emergencies, and know ahead of time which hospitals will treat Americans.
“For Americans, so many travel problems simply stem from ignorance, so I encourage anyone planning a trip to consider their health first and foremost,” Halford said.
About Dr. Halford:
William Daniel Halford, M.D. is board-certified in Family Medicine and is a licensed travel medicine provider by the International Society for Travel Medicine. He can be reached at 615-435-7780.
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