Learn the basics of safe holiday travel

In planning your holiday or winter vacation, you might groan about scheduling travel vaccines or other safety measures.

Sometimes these vaccines or medications can seem confusing, not necessary, or more of a hassle than help. However, Dr. Ann Trauscht, a family medicine physician at Advocate Medical Group in Lake Zurich, IL, has over 15 years’ experience of helping travelers navigate their business and pleasure travels safely and efficiently.

“Some patients tell me ‘I only want to get what is required.’ Most of the vaccines or preventive medications that we advise our traveler patients to receive are not required, but are strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization,” Dr. Trauscht says.

“These are recommended to prevent the serious diseases that are present in the destination countries.”

Dr. Trauscht finds the below vaccines and preparations are helpful for her patients to enjoy their trips:

  • Influenza (Flu) Vaccine: This vaccine is important during flu season whether you’re traveling or not. But travelers are take planes, buses, trains and packed cars where people are in close proximity and are usually already worn down and tired. For international traveling it is recommended to get this vaccine no matter the time of year.
  • Hepatitis A Vaccine: This vaccine is now given to most 1-year old children, but many adults have never received it because it did not become a national recommendation until the year 2000. This is a lifetime vaccine and is given in two shots. One shot would protect you now for the holidays and the second one can be scheduled in 6-12 months. Usually Hepatitis A is acquired from food and can cause nausea, jaundice, and feeling sick for up to 6-8 weeks. Easy to avoid and prevent for your next trip.
  • Traveler’s Diarrhea Preventions: Due frequent dining out while traveling, this symptom is very common as one is exposed to various food and water sources. Besides travel medicine clinics, one’s primary care physician could have these medications on hand to prescribe. “I usually let my patients know how they can decrease their risk of Traveler’s Diarrhea by not drinking tap water,” mentions Dr. Trauscht, “But I also give them medicine to have on hand to treat for their initial body’s reaction and an antibiotic. She says that most physicians do not typically treat diarrhea in patients who have only been in the U.S. as that is usually either a viral infection or food poisoning and will be self-limited. But in global travel, not having medications can disrupt the trip, cause unnecessary medical treatment, and can cause long-term intestinal issues later.
  • Zika & Dengue Prevention: Mosquitos have become more of a health risk the past couple decades due to their prolific spreading of nasty virus’s. Travelers are encouraged to bring sprays, wear preventative clothing, use netting while sleeping, etc. especially if traveling to Africa, Asia, South/Central America and the Caribbean. Those particularly at risk are children and pregnant women. Children’s higher body heat attracts mosquitos and both children and pregnant women can become much sicker from these insect borne illnesses than non-pregnant adults.
  • Motor Vehicle Accidents: Currently the biggest safety health issue for travelers are from motor vehicles, whether one is a pedestrian or vehicle occupant. According to the CDC, these accidents are more common than any infectious diseases one can catch in another country. Watch where you are walking, keep aware of your surroundings and when possible use local drivers rather than driving yourself.

To be prepared for your trip, go to your local travel medicine clinic approximately 6-8 weeks before you leave, as most vaccines can be done in this time frame and be effective for travel. However, due to business plans or family passing there are quite a few vaccines that can be done last minute, so don’t let the short time frames stop you from protecting yourself. Though most of the year it is easy to get an appointment at these clinics, there is always a pre-summer surge of patients right before summer vacation so keep that in mind.

Dr. Trauscht also shares what to expect at your travel medicine appointment:

  • You will fill out a health questionnaire before your scheduled appointment that includes your travel plans and specific locations, so staff can look up your vaccine and medication prevention needs ahead of time.
  • Appointments are generally an hour long for new travelers or patients. Returning patients are between 15-30 minutes.
  • Trauscht typically askes her patients “What problems have you had before when you have traveled?” or “What are you most concerned about when you travel?”
  • Prevention measures are tailored to your personal plans so what vaccines you might need for staying at a resort vs hiking in the jungle vs helping children in an orphanage might be vastly different.
  • Your travel medicine physician is most likely part of the International Society of Travel Medicine and receives 6-10 updates every day on new concerns or safety issues lifted. They also can easily reach out to colleagues in that specific area of that country to collect more information and get expert feedback.
  • You will be sent off with a packet of what to do when you are overseas medically, cultural information, given embassy numbers in case of an emergency, have a detailed review sheet of what was talked about for your safety, what vaccines you were given and if you need any follow up appointments.
  • Shared excitement about your trip from your travel medicine professional who is keeping your safety and fun top priority!

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