The best way to stay healthy on your trip is to plan before you go. If you are planning to travel to another country, see a doctor several months before you leave so you will have time for vaccines (immunizations) that you may need to get ahead of time.
Also ask your doctor if there are medicines or extra safety steps that you should take. For example, if you have asthma, you may have to avoid stays in polluted cities. Or someone visiting the tropics may need to take medicine to prevent malaria.
You can use the Internet to find general travel health information. Just make sure that the information is up-to-date and from a reliable source. See the following websites before you travel:
Vaccines that may be recommended include those for:
Visit the CDC site https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/find-clinic to find a clinic where you can get travel vaccines.
If you plan to visit an area where malaria is common, start taking medicine ahead of time to prevent malaria infection.
Before you go, learn about the places you plan to visit. For example, find out if the water is safe to drink or if you need to worry about malaria.
Basic safety can prevent some problems:
If you become seriously ill while traveling, your country's embassy or consulate can help you find medical care. If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in malaria-risk areas, get medical help right away.
Diarrhea is the most common illness to strike travelers. Most cases of traveler's diarrhea get better in 1 to 3 days without treatment. But see a doctor if diarrhea lasts longer than 7 days, or if you have a high fever, blood or mucus in your diarrhea, or signs of dehydration.
If you were healthy during your trip and you feel well when you return home, you probably don't need to see a doctor.
See your doctor when you get home if either of the following occurs:
Tell your doctor the places you visited and whether you think you may have gotten a disease. Many diseases don't show up right away. And some can take weeks or months to develop.
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Proper planning is the best way to stay healthy during your trip. This takes time. You'll want to gather both travel and health information, and think about your special needs.
See a doctor several months before you go so you'll have time to get vaccines or make other health preparations.
You can use the Internet to find general travel health information. Just make sure the information is up-to-date and from a reliable source. See the following websites before you travel:
Check with the nearest travel health clinic, your regional health department, your doctor, or one of the websites listed above to see what kind of vaccines you should get. In the United States, most state health clinics can give you travel vaccines, some medicines, and healthy travel tips.
See your doctor or go to a clinic several months before your trip, or as soon as you can. Some vaccines need to be given in more than one dose. For example, if you need protection from hepatitis A, you'll need two doses of hepatitis A vaccine spaced at least 6 months apart.
You may need vaccines to protect against:
More immunizations may be needed depending on the area you are visiting, how long you will be there, and the purpose of your journey. For example, if you will be trekking in rural Asia for a month or longer, you may need a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis.footnote 1
A vaccine for traveler's diarrhea and cholera, called Dukoral, has been approved in Canada and Europe. But it is not available in the United States.
To learn more, see the topic Immunizations.
Ask about a prescription for antimalarial drugs if you will be visiting an area that has malaria. This includes large areas of Central and South America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and many South Pacific islands.
You may need to take one of several different preventive medicines, depending on the type of malaria parasite in that part of the world. These medicines need to be taken daily during your travels and for a specified time after you return. It is important to take all the tablets you were given. This may mean taking antimalarial tablets for several weeks after you get home.
If you have any chronic diseases or other health concerns, such as birth control or allergies, see your doctor. You may need to take other steps or make adjustments in your travel plans.
Traveling comes with a whole new set of things to think about. The following can help you stay healthy and enjoy your trip as much as possible.
Flying isn't always fun. But you can take steps to make it easier and to feel better during and after your flight.
Contaminated water and food are the most common cause of illness in travelers.
Travelers to backcountry areas of North America should also take precautions with water. Even though the water in high mountain lakes looks sparkling clear, it may be contaminated with Giardia intestinalis, the parasite that causes giardiasis. Take simple precautions to avoid this illness, such as boiling the water.
Taking these precautions with food can help prevent infections, like tapeworm.
To learn more, see the topic Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling.
Swimming in contaminated fresh water, such as ponds or rivers, can expose you to diseases. Even swimming pools with inadequate chlorination pose a risk. Talk to your doctor if you plan on doing recreational water sports—such as white-water rafting, adventure racing, or kayaking—in tropical and backcountry regions.
To prevent fungal or parasitic infections and injuries, do not go barefoot. Try to keep your feet as clean and dry as possible.
Although sea water is usually safe from disease, swimming or diving in sea water can still be dangerous. Avoid swimming or wading in sea water near a river, estuary, or other outlet from inland. Swimming when you have an open cut or sore can also increase your risk of getting an infection. In developing countries, sea water around big cities and other populated areas may not be safe. For more information, see the topic Marine Stings and Scrapes.
Mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and ticks all spread disease. These diseases include:
Malaria is the insect-borne disease of most concern to travelers in tropical and subtropical regions. Although antimalarial medicines kill the malaria parasite in the bloodstream, this protection isn't complete. Take protective measures along with taking antimalarial medicine.
Ticks inhabit many regions, including Europe, Canada, and the United States. Although it is rare for travelers to contract diseases from ticks, some of the diseases are serious. For information on how to prevent tick bites, see the topic Tick Bites.
Here are some tips that can help you avoid mosquitoes and other insects:
Do not use home remedies like eating garlic, rubbing garlic on your skin, or taking vitamin B. They do not prevent bites.
Many travelers underestimate the sun's strength and overestimate the amount of protection their sunscreen offers. This can add up to at least an uncomfortable sunburn and other skin damage.
Steps you can take to protect yourself from the sun include using sunscreen and wearing a hat and sunglasses.
Heat can also cause problems such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Sometimes it's hard to keep cool while you are active in a hot environment. But you can take steps to prevent heat-related illness.
Although disease is a big risk while you are traveling, you should also be aware of the risk of injury.
If you haven't had a tetanus shot in 10 years, you should get a booster dose before you leave on your trip. But if you don't get a tetanus shot before you leave, you should get one after an animal bite or an injury that results in a break in the skin.
Altitude sickness happens when you can't get enough oxygen from the air at high altitudes. This causes symptoms such as a headache and loss of appetite. The best treatment for altitude sickness is to go to a lower altitude. But if you have mild symptoms, you may be able to stay at the higher altitude and let your body get used to it.
Steps to prevent altitude sickness include eating breads, grains, and pasta and not flying directly from low altitudes to high altitudes. You may also be able to take medicine to prevent altitude sickness.
You will learn about safety in your scuba diving certification class. If you plan to get certified while traveling, find an experienced, certified teacher that you feel comfortable with. Several groups, including the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), certify instructors and dive shops all over the world.
If you are a new diver, it is best to go with an experienced guide, also called a dive master. Most accidents and problems occur when divers ignore the rules and push their limits. Here are some general diving rules:
If you become seriously ill while traveling, your country's embassy or consulate can help you find medical care. For a complete list of embassies and consulates, see the U.S. Department of State website at www.usembassy.gov. You can also get the contacts for local doctors and medical clinics. If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling, seek medical attention immediately.
Traveler's diarrhea is the most common illness when traveling. Most cases get better within 1 to 3 days without medical treatment.
Most doctors recommend trying to keep to your normal diet as much as possible. If you are vomiting, this may be hard. Try drinking clear liquids. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth and less urine. If possible, drink rehydration drinks to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Before you go, buy dry packets of oral rehydration mix at a drugstore.
See a doctor if diarrhea doesn't subside or if you have a high fever, blood or mucus in your stools, or signs of dehydration. Watch closely for signs of dehydration in children, because children with diarrhea can quickly become seriously dehydrated.
Your doctor may be able to give you antibiotics to take if you get diarrhea. But some antibiotics can be dangerous if you have bloody diarrhea. Make sure you talk to a doctor before you take antibiotics for bloody diarrhea. And don't take antibiotics to prevent diarrhea.
Antidiarrheal medicines, such as those containing bismuth (examples include Bismatrol and Pepto-Bismol) or Imodium A-D (nonprescription) and Lomotil (prescription), give relief from cramping and frequent stools. But you shouldn't take them if you have a fever or blood or mucus in your stools.
See a doctor right away if you have bloody diarrhea.
To learn more, see the topic Traveler's Diarrhea.
If you have been healthy during your trip and feel well when you return home, you don't need to see a doctor. But if you've been ill, especially while traveling to regions where disease is prevalent, you need to see a doctor.
Many diseases don't show up right away. Some take weeks to months to develop. For example, 90% of travelers who get malaria don't become ill until after they return home.footnote 2
See your doctor when you get home if either of the following occurs:
Tell your doctor the regions you visited and about any exposure to disease.
It's important to be aware of other symptoms besides a fever. See your doctor if you have:
- Fischer M, et al. (2010). Japanese encephalitis vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR, 59(01): 1–27. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5901a1.htm.
- Spira AM (2003). Assessment of travellers who return home ill. Lancet, 361(9367): 1459–1469.
Other Works Consulted
- Advice for travelers (2012). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 10(118): 45–56.
- Basnyat B, Ericsson CD (2012). Travel medicine. In PS Auerbach, ed., Wilderness Medicine, 6th ed., pp. 1694–1709. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Yellow fever vaccine: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR, 59(RR–7): 1–27.. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr5907.pdf.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Travelers' health. Travel safe. Travel smart. Explore travel health with the 2014 Yellow Book. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/yellowbook-home-2014. Accessed January 12, 2015.
- Committee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel (2012). Statement on personal protective measures to prevent arthropod bites. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 38: 1–18. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/12vol38/acs-dcc-3/index-eng.php. Accessed May 21, 2016.
- Hill DR, et al. (2006). The practice of travel medicine: Guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 43(12): 1499–1539.
- Kanzaria HK, Hsia RY (2012). Mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases. In PS Auerbach, ed., Wilderness Medicine, 6th ed., pp. 883–900. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.
- Keystone JS, Kozarsky PE (2015). Health recommendations for international travel. In DL Kasper et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th ed., vol. 2, pp. 793–802. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
- Lipman GS, et al. (2013). Wilderness Medical Society practice guidelines for the prevention and treatment of heat-related illness. Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 24(4): 351–361.
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