Preparing to travel abroad usually involves mapping out where you’ll sightsee and which local cuisine you’ll try. Priorities, right?
However, Stephen Blatt MD, of TriHealth Infectious Diseases, says something else should top your to-do list: your well-being.
#1: Know Your Risk
“The first thing you have to decide when you’re traveling abroad is: What are the risks in the places where you’re going?’” he explains.
For most parts of Western Europe, the risks are fairly minimal, so you just need to focus on good hand hygiene to prevent yourself from contracting any infectious diseases; but, if you’re going anywhere else in the world – especially Central or South America, Asia or Africa – there are many other risks you need to know about beforehand.
Dr. Blatt suggests visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, where you plug in the area you’re visiting. Then, the site generates what risks you may face in that part of the world.
#2: Visit Your Doctor for a Travel Evaluation
The first step involved in a travel evaluation is determining the health risks associated with the country you’re visiting. From there, your doctor determines which vaccinations you should have before the trip, as well as what medications you should bring with you in case you’re exposed to any diseases. For example, there may be risk of diseases, like Chikungunya or Zika virus, which are spread through insects. "You need to prevent yourself from getting mosquito bites so you don’t come down with that disease,” Dr. Blatt points out.
It's important to get advice on which vaccinations you need well in advance (at least six weeks prior to departure), as some vaccinations need to be given in a series for optimal immunity.
Next, your doctor will review all of your current medications and medical problems to make sure it’s safe for you to travel to that part of the world, and provide you with information on what to do if you become ill while you’re there.
#3: Know Where You Can Receive Health Care, Just in Case
If you do contract an illness or sustain an injury, you’ll need to seek health care, depending on the severity. Ask your doctor about how you can access professionally trained English-speaking doctors in the country you’re visiting.
You should also prepare by gathering information on how to access the U.S. Embassy in the country you’re visiting.
#4: Find Out if You Should be Prescribed an Antibiotic
In many cases, if you’re going to an area where there’s significant risk, your doctor may prescribe a medication, particularly, an antibiotic – and detailed instructions on how to take it – so you can treat yourself and prevent the illness from worsening. “That’s another reason you need a travel evaluation if you’re traveling to developing countries, so you can take medications with you, should you become ill,” Dr. Blatt says.
#5: Know if you Should Physically Train Your Body
If you’re planning to be doing a lot of walking or hiking during your trip, you should implement an exercise regimen to condition your body before you leave.
Otherwise, you could ask your doctor for a medication to prevent altitude sickness, if you’ll be visiting a high-altitude destination.