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Travel the World Safe and Healthy with St. Luke’s

Category: Health Stories
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Nurse practitioner Sherry Johnson consults with a colleague at St. Luke's International Travel Clinic. 

International travel can be exciting, especially in the planning stages. Research and select destination? Check. Find and book lodging? Check. Purchase plane tickets? Check. The possibilities are endless and so are your daydreams of spectacular scenery and exotic foods.

Whether you’re planning a backpacking adventure across China or a business trip to London, it’s important to be prepared. This includes having a plan for how you’re going to stay healthy and safe. Fortunately, while international travel does automatically put you at a greater risk for disease and illness, most potential harms can be avoided by taking the right precautions.

So once you’ve finalized the details of your itinerary it’s time to create a plan for staying healthy, which is exactly what St. Luke's International Travel Health Center can help you do.

Knowing what you need

Every traveler’s needs are different. The combination of your destination, length of stay and planned activities will impact what you should do to protect your health. For an example, consider two people planning a trip to Africa. The volunteer who plans to spend two months in a backcountry refugee camp will need much different preparations than a business person staying at a nice hotel in a big city.

When you set up an appointment with a travel medicine specialist at St. Luke's International Travel Health Center, all of these factors will be taken into consideration before recommendations are given. Your age, current state of health, and medical history will factor in as well.

Once all the facts have been reviewed, you’ll be given recommendations including vaccines, medications and other tips on how to stay healthy. This is always a conversation, and you will be able ask the questions you need to so you can confidently accept or decline.

Vaccines, medication and other tips

When considering international health hazards, it’s only natural to focus on the diseases that make headlines. While Ebola, cholera, bird flu and coronavirus are real concerns, most travelers are more at risk for contracting a less prestigious illness like influenza or measles. The good news is that these sicknesses can be avoided with the right vaccinations.

Common vaccines received by travelers include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid and yellow fever. Don’t worry though, you probably won’t need all of these for one trip. Most are administered through a series of shots a few weeks a part. The typhoid vaccine is available through injections or pills.

Routine preventive immunizations will be reviewed as well, and boosters can be given if needed. This may include tetanus, meningitis, human papillomavirus virus (HPV) or a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Some countries require a yellow fever vaccination to be given at least 10 days before entry. Travelers who receive this vaccination will be given a Yellow Card, also known as an international certificate of vaccination (ICV), by the travel medicine specialist. Travelers without one may be denied entry into the country or quarantined for a period of time. If a yellow fever vaccination cannot be given, a medical exemption letter can be provided.

While some vaccinations will require booster doses after a certain amount of time, they are typically good for a number of years. Medications, on the other hand, require new prescriptions for every trip to an at-risk area.

Medications could include those taken before you leave to help prevent disease, like an antimalarial drug. Your travel medicine specialist may also prescribe medications you could take when you arrive at your destination. These can help with illnesses like altitude sickness, traveler’s diarrhea or an antibiotic if you run the risk of developing an infection.

While traveling, you’re exposed to viruses and bacteria your body isn’t familiar with, which can lead to some pretty severe reactions. On top of that, all the excitement can weaken your immune system. Your travel medicine specialist will provide hygiene tips on how to protect yourself like hand washing or foods and beverages that you should avoid.

A healthy start to your adventure

Whatever your destination and purpose, make St. Luke’s International Travel Center your first stop for pre-travel counseling, immunization and health advice. The best time to schedule an appointment is 4 to 6 weeks before a trip. Plan to bring the following to your appointment:

  • Your immunization record and medical history
  • A current list of any medications or supplements you take
  • Your travel plans
  • Any questions you may have about safe travel

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, call St. Luke’s International Travel Center at 218.249.7990.

This article was published in Duluthian magazine, September-October 2019 issue.

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