“I’m traveling to Rwanda,” you say to your doctor. “What immunizations do I need?”
If your health care provider has global travel experience, the answer will most likely be: “Let’s talk about your health and the risks you might encounter on your trip to East Africa.”
Dr. Claudia Zegans, medical director at Elite Medical Group, is a firm believer in a travel health consultation four to six weeks before travel. What is a travel health consultation? It’s an appointment with a health care provider where a traveler can discuss the health concerns that might pop up during a trip and what steps they can take to decrease the risk.
Before joining Global Rescue, Zegans worked at the Dartmouth College Health Service providing primary care to undergraduate and graduate students from all over the globe.
“There were at least two travel health consults every day,” she said. “And vaccination recommendations are the smallest part of a pre travel health consultation.”
Zegans offers these tips for making the most of your travel health consultation.
1. Know Your Health Status
Don’t travel if you are sick or recovering from surgery.
“Certain health conditions and medications can increase your health risks for travel,” Zegans said. “These risks will vary by destination, activities and mode of travel. You should have your complete immunization record available so your travel health care provider can accurately determine if you need certain vaccines. Know what medications or other treatments you will need to take with you and be sure to bring an adequate supply of each of them.”
2. Bring Your Itinerary
To make sure you get the best advice possible, Zegans recommended bringing your travel itinerary with you.
“When I look at the itinerary, I’ll see you are flying into Sao Paulo then traveling to the Amazon for three-day fishing trip. You won’t have significant malaria exposure in Sao Paulo, but you will need to prepare for the Amazon, which has a risk of malaria,” she said. “When do you start malaria preventive medications: in the United States, or do you wait until you arrive at your destination? The itinerary helps me provide the best advice during a pre travel health consultation.”
3. Bring a Destination Report
Global Rescue members have access to detailed destination reports with helpful information like health and security assessments and required immunizations.
Other helpful sites with travel health information include:
- World Health Organization — explore health topics by country International
- Society of Travel Medicine — browse a directory of clinics across the world
- CDC — view current travel health notices at three levels (1, 2 and 3, which is avoid all non-essential travel)
4. Ask for Individual Recommendations
According to Zegans, destination reports have information and lists for all travelers.
“This might be all the information a sophisticated traveler needs,” Zegans said. “But other travelers with certain health concerns or specific itineraries may need more.”
This “more” might mean individual recommendations customized to your own health history, travel plans and activity itinerary.
Say you are traveling to India. At your pre travel health consultation, your provider has your medical records (you have asthma) and knows your destination (air pollution is an issue in New Delhi and other Indian cities).
“Your travel health provider will want to make sure your asthma is under 100% best control before you travel and you are traveling with enough medications,” Zegans said. “You should also have an asthma action plan to reduce or prevent flare ups and avoid situations that might require an emergency room visit.”
Travel recommendations vary widely. While one website might suggest practicing mosquito bite precautions in India, another might strongly recommend taking malaria prophylaxis for any Indian destination.
An experienced travel health provider will be able to understand the differences in guidelines, match the information to the traveler’s needs and convey informed advice customized to the person and the trip.
5. Develop a Travel Tool Kit
Information plus tools equals self-care capabilities.
“The travel health provider will provide as much information as he or she can, so travelers can make decisions,” Zegans said. “Maybe you are prone to altitude sickness and part of your trip is at a higher elevation. Do you need to carry preventative medicine? You want to get the most out of your travel health consultation, so you have all the tools with you on your trip and can maximize your chances of being successful with self care.”
This does require “knowing yourself,” Zegans said. “Maybe you brought the Imodium but didn’t bring the antibiotics because you don’t do well with them. Everyone is different, so every travel tool kit will be different.”
6. Have an Emergency Plan
Even if you’ve had a travel health consultation, packed the right medications and took the right precautions, a medical emergency might still occur on your trip. That’s where Global Rescue comes in for its members.
“You are following your asthma action plan but are not sure what the next step should be. Global Rescue can help you decide if you need to continue your albuterol for your asthma, or if you need to go to the hospital,” Zegans said. “And we can also help you find a hospital with X-ray capabilities in case you have pneumonia.”
Global Rescue is the leading provider of worldwide evacuation, field rescue and advisory services. With operations teams standing by 24/7/365, travel assistance and advisory are just a few services included in membership. Click here to learn more.
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