Commentary: Consider vaccines, repellents and other precautions before traveling overseas this summer
Small talk during the course of an office visit sometimes turns to the topic of summer vacation plans. My patients might be seeing me for nausea, but when they tell me about their upcoming trips to distant locales, I’m the one who turns green.
Envy aside, I want them to enjoy their excursions to the fullest, so I give all my globe-trotting patients the same sound piece of medical advice: don’t get sick. There is nothing that will ruin an exotic vacation faster than an exotic illness.
Often, my patients will laugh, thinking this is easier said than done. But travelers actually have quite a bit of control over their health overseas. The key is prevention.
Whether you are headed to Boise or Bangladesh, you need to stay up-to-date on vaccines. Adults are often shocked to learn that some of the immunizations we received as children, such as those that protect against polio, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus, may require a booster or two well into middle age. For international travelers, it is also important to educate yourself about health risks that might await you upon arrival.
My more seasoned travelers know to check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) travel website for health advisories and recommended vaccines. But less-experienced travelers, even those of us who are doctors, don’t always know to check the site. Many years before starting my current medical practice, I traveled the coast of Turkey without giving a single thought to the Hepatitis A and typhoid fever risks that I had not inoculated myself against. Thankfully, I came home healthy, but I would not advise placing your health in the hands of luck.
Over the years, I have inoculated frequent fliers against a host of mosquito-borne illnesses, including Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever, and prescribed medication to help prevent malaria. And because the Zika virus worried my Olympics-bound travelers last summer, I advised many of my patients to slather on the DEET and apply the natural bug-repellent pyrethrum to their clothing.
I have also advised patients to protect themselves against infectious diseases that are transmitted through food and water, including Hepatitis A and typhoid fever. Two doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine usually provide lifelong protection and either an oral or injectable vaccine can help to prevent typhoid fever.
Travelers headed to certain countries, most importantly Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, require a polio booster shot. Again, the CDC website is the best resource for ever-changing recommendations.
If you’ve set your travel goals high – as in above 8,000 feet – I recommend Diamox, a medication that combats altitude illness. It requires a prescription, but there are plenty of over-the-counter medications to consider bringing along with you if you are planning to travel outside your comfort zone. Ask your doctor for recommendations.
Dr. STAN WASBIN, along with his colleagues Drs. WILLIAM ANDERSON and LEWIS MOSS and Nurse Practitioner MARY JEAN O’CONNOR, provide travel medicine services in Laguna Beach as part of Hoag Medical Group.