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Traveling Abroad: Can You Protect Your Health When Far from Home?

by: ARA Content

Talking About Health with Jennifer Foss, R.N.

(ARA) - Less than 100 years ago, world travel was a rare treat reserved mostly for the wealthy. Today, retirees cruise to South America, college students study in Europe and modern day adventurers journey through the wilderness of Africa. But as small as the world has become, there are still health concerns to be aware of when you travel abroad.

Get Your Shots

If you travel to countries other than Western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Japan, you will probably need additional vaccines and medication. Sometimes these shots must be given weeks or months before your departure to allow them time to take effect, so visit your doctor early.

If you visit countries in the Indian subcontinent, East Asia and South America, you will probably need vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid and malaria. Visitors to the Middle East and Africa will need the above vaccinations along with meningitis and yellow fever vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site,, lists all immunizations needed when visiting specific destinations.

Pack the Medicine Cabinet

Although it may feel like you're packing everything but the kitchen sink, there are certain items you'll need when traveling internationally, including:

  • An extra pair of eye glasses or contact lenses, along with a current eye prescription.
  • A medical identification bracelet to alert others about any health problems you may have.
  • Any prescription medications and a signed and dated statement from your physician indicating the proper dosage and explaining why you take the medication.
  • Over-the-counter medications and treatments that you may need, such as diarrhea medicine, cough syrup, allergy medicine, aspirin, eye drops, sunscreen and insect repellant. While traveling, avoid buying over-the-counter medicine unless you're familiar with the product. Developing countries may not have the same quality and safety standards for medications as in the United States.

Stop Stomach Bugs

No one wants to spend his or her vacation in the bathroom, but the risk of intestinal infections can be high in nonindustrialized countries with poor sanitation. To avoid traveler's diarrhea, the CDC recommends that you:

  • Drink only boiled, canned, bottled or carbonated beverages. Also, wipe off bottle and can rims to avoid contamination.
  • Don't drink beverages with ice.
  • Don't eat food purchased from street vendors.
  • Don't eat unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Boil, peel and cook all raw food, including vegetables.

If you're going to be in an area where you won't be able to boil your water, you can purchase disinfecting iodine tablets from your local sporting goods/camping store or pharmacy.

Insure Your Health

If you break your leg while hiking through the jungles of Thailand, you're going to need more than a suitcase full of antacids and aspirin. However, a trip to a foreign hospital usually requires payment up front in advance of treatment. A short-term health insurance policy for travelers may help protect you from these large out-of-pocket expenses. A travel policy may also be invaluable if you need to be transferred to another city or country for a medical emergency. If your health insurance company won't cover you outside of the U.S., there are companies that specialize in travel health insurance.

About The Author

This article courtesy of ARA Content,

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you would like to run "Talking About Health" as a regular weekly column sponsored by a local health care institution, contact Jim Larranaga at 1-800-727-6397.


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