Feature Article: How to Prepare for Healthy Travel

Published on in Parents PACK

As schools let out for the summer, more people will be traveling. If your plans include international travel, some important factors should be considered not only while planning your trip, but also while you’re abroad and even once you return home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel health website is a comprehensive resource for travelers. It offers information that travelers may find useful, no matter their destination, reason for travel, or traveling companions. By choosing a destination and providing some basic information about your traveling party (e.g., whether you are traveling with children, experiencing an extended stay, traveling while pregnant, staying in a remote location, or going on a cruise), you can access detailed health recommendations and information regarding the public health situation at your destination. For example, five vaccines commonly recommended for travel to developing countries include: hepatitis A, cholera, typhoid, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. 

Besides vaccines and medications, the website offers practical information like fact sheets on smart packing, traveling with children or while pregnant, what to do if you become ill while abroad, and preparing for pre-travel doctor’s visits (see the Spotlight section of this newsletter for more on pre-travel medical care).

Travel notices inform travelers and healthcare professionals about local health issues related to specific destinations. These issues could arise from disease outbreaks (Ebola), special events (the Olympics), natural disasters (earthquake in Nepal) or other conditions that may affect travelers’ health, well-being and safety. Be sure to check the CDC’s travel health notices Web page before leaving for any international trip. Travel notices are categorized in three levels:

  • Level 1: Watch — This is a reminder for the traveler to practice usual precautions for the specific destination, such as being up to date on all recommended vaccines, as well as any travel vaccines outlined for your specific destination; and practicing good travel health behaviors, like eating food that is cooked and served hot, drinking sealed, bottled water and beverages and choosing safe modes of transportation. Level 1 notices have limited impact on the traveler as risk caused by the specified event or outbreak is only slightly elevated. A recent example of a Level 1 notice would be for mumps in Scotland, which was issued May 15, 2015. The notice indicates an elevated number of mumps cases in Scotland in 2015 and recommends travelers make sure they are vaccinated before travel.
  • Level 2: Alert — Enhanced precautions are recommended under this notice as a result of an increased risk either in defined settings or for those with specific risk factors. Enhanced precautions might include actions like receiving a travel vaccine that isn’t normally recommended for that destination, avoiding the most congested or populated areas of your destination, or adhering to strict hygiene practices. Current Level 2 travel notices are related to polio, MERS and Ebola as well as Hajj and Umrah gatherings (see Around the World) and a recent tropical cyclone; to find out more, check the travel notices page
  • Level 3: Warning — A Level 3 notice means a high risk exists for travelers who may either become ill or experience conditions not suitable for supporting travelers. In these scenarios, travelers are typically recommended to avoid all non-essential travel to this destination. An example would be after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when the country’s sanitation and transportation infrastructure was so damaged that travel was unsafe. More recent examples are related to outbreaks of Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as earthquakes in Nepal.

Unfortunately, sometimes more than memories can be brought back from an international trip, so it’s also important to remain vigilant about your and your family’s health once you return home. For example, symptoms like persistent diarrhea (for more than two weeks) and skin problems (rashes, fungal infections, boils, bug bites) can be fairly common after a trip. Because you may have been exposed to something during travel, it is more important to contact a doctor even if symptoms do not seem that severe. Another scenario in which you should contact a doctor even if you normally would not, is if you develop a fever within a month of returning from a country where malaria is present.

Whatever the reason may be, if you visit a doctor after returning from an international trip, be sure to share information about your recent travel. Your doctor will want to know details from your trip such as the activities you participated in, duration of your trip, where you stayed, what you ate and drank, whether you were bitten by bugs, whether you swam in freshwater, whether you were exposed to any bodily fluids, and whether you got any tattoos or piercings during your trip. These kinds of details, while they may seem unusual, will help the doctor to determine whether your illness is something that could have resulted from your recent travel.

Additional resources:

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.