Protect Your Health While Traveling

Published on February 26, 2017

When traveling, you’ll need more than just sunscreen and a hat to protect your health

The months of February and March mark the season of school holidays, spring breaks, and late-winter vacations, prompting many vacationers to travel. Though a traveler’s checklist for arranging destinations, transportation, accommodations, and activities can be a lengthy one, it should always include precautions for safety and health-related risks.

When planning your vacation getaway, consider scheduling a visit with your health care provider to discuss your travel plans. If traveling internationally, you may want to consider a travel clinic for further assessment. “Certain diseases that people are not exposed to in this country are present in other places,” says Christopher Quinn, MD, Director of Occupational Health Service, board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Sturdy Memorial Hospital. “To protect yourself, you need to know what vaccinations are necessary for travel to particular destinations.” Occupational Health Service (OHS) will help you determine this as well as provide you with the vaccinations you need. Once vaccinated, OHS will then give you a Yellow Card, also known as an “International Certificate of Vaccination,” to take with you on your trip. You’ll need this card as proof of vaccination to enter certain countries, be aware that it becomes valid 10 days after vaccination and lasts for 10 years. “Vaccinations can take time to take effect—sometimes six weeks,” says Dr. Quinn, so be sure to consult your physician or a travel clinic such as OHS, as soon as you know where you’ll be vacationing.

Whether your travel plans revolve around roadmaps or resorts, remember that health problems could happen anywhere and at any time, so it never hurts to be prepared. Basic supplies to bring include:

  • Personal prescription medications carried in their original containers, along with copies of all prescriptions
  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants
  • Aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Anti-motion sickness medication
  • Antacid
  • Cough suppressants and throat lozenges
  • Antifungal and antibacterial ointments or creams
  • Hand sanitizer, bandages
  • Insect repellant containing DEET (up to 50%) and sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater)
  • Water purification tablets

If you’re traveling by plane, pack your medications in your carry-on, making sure to adhere to airport regulations. In the event your checked luggage is lost, you will still have your medications with you. Bring extra medicine in the event your return trip is delayed. If you’re traveling by boat, remember that cruise ships accommodate people in close quarters. Such settings encourage the spread of illness or disease through personal contact on board or via the environments on shore. Any person who become ill should seek medical attention on the ship and limit contact with others to reduce further spread of illness, and upon returning home, should see their health care providers.

The most important thing for travelers to keep in mind when out of the country is that medical systems may not operate in the same way or follow the same regulations as the United States. Do some research to make sure you’re prepared if a health issue arises. And remember, to prevent illness here or anywhere, follow the basic universal precautions for healthy living such as hand hygiene and cough etiquette. For more information about international travel health, contact OHS at 508-236-7500 or visit the CDC website.