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What precautions should I take if I plan on traveling abroad?

Before embarking on an overseas trip, travelers can take steps to safeguard their health by consulting with a travel medicine clinic. These specialized facilities help people prepare for their journeys by addressing important health-related issues that can be easily overlooked when planning a big trip.

Based on a person’s destination and health history, the clinic’s travel medicine specialists can provide immunizations, medications and recommendations to help minimize risk of illness.
People booking a journey to a developing or otherwise exotic locale should plan ahead to make sure they don’t put themselves at risk for infections endemic to that region, according to Zachary Rubin, MD, director of the Santa Monica-UCLA Center for Travel and Tropical Medicine. Part of the planning involves education on the risks, what to bring and what to avoid. Prospective travelers should consult with their doctors to ensure that their general health is good.

"One of the most important reasons for planning ahead is to ensure there is time to obtain any necessary vaccinations," notes Lynn Stephens, a nurse-practitioner with the Travel Medicine Program at the UCLA Family Health Center in Santa Monica. "We recommend getting the vaccines four to six weeks before travel to allow time for them to take effect and for patients to get over any side effects they might experience from the vaccines.”

"It’s important to be aware of everything you eat and drink," Stephens says. Travelers to less-developed parts of the world should stick with bottled water and, where it isn’t available, use filtering devices and tablets or bring the water to a boil. Avoid uncooked vegetables and fresh fruits that don’t have thick rinds or peels. In case these efforts fail, people are sometimes given a prescription for antibiotics and are advised to stay hydrated. “As long as you can keep fluid down, the risk is minimal,” Dr. Rubin says. In more serious cases, patients can be referred to local healthcare providers.

Sometimes there are special concerns for the youngest and oldest travelers. Parents are advised not to take the youngest children to certain parts of the world if they are not old enough to have had all of their immunizations. For toddlers and young school-age children, watching what they eat and drink is paramount. Children are at greater risk from diarrheal diseases and malaria, so taking protective measures, including ensuring proper hydration, is particularly important. For the elderly, Dr. Rubin recommends traveler’s insurance that guarantees they can be flown to a developed country if they require treatment while abroad.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.