How can you stay healthy on your trip?
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 at least 6 weeks 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 Africa may need to take medicine to prevent malaria.
Where can you get the best information?
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:
- www.cdc.gov/travel: This site has information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on travel, required immunizations, and disease outbreaks.
- www.who.int/ith/en: You'll find information from the World Health Organization (WHO) on travel, required immunizations, and disease outbreaks.
- www.usembassy.gov: This site has information from the U.S. State Department on where to get the best medical care in the region you are visiting. It lists every U.S. embassy worldwide and lists some doctors and medical facilities in those countries. Take along the phone numbers and addresses of embassies in the areas you will visit.
Which immunizations and medicines will you need?
Vaccines that may be recommended include those for:
- Hepatitis A .
- Yellow fever .
- The flu or complications of pneumonia.
- Typhoid fever .
- Childhood infections, if they are not up-to-date for you and your children. These include shots for polio, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, and rubella.
- Rabies (What is a PDF document?) , if you may be handling or near animals in parts of the world where rabies is common.
If you plan to visit an area where malaria is common, start taking medicine ahead of time to prevent malaria infection.
What precautions should you take while you travel?
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:
- Developing countries may not have safe tap water. When visiting these places, drink only beverages made with boiled water, such as tea and coffee. Canned or bottled carbonated drinks are usually a safe choice. Don't use ice if you don't know what kind of water was used to make it.
- Do not eat raw vegetables, raw fruits, or raw or undercooked meat and seafood.
- In malaria-infected areas, use DEET insect repellent. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, especially from dusk to dawn. Use mosquito netting to protect yourself from bites while you sleep.
- Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of injury among travelers. If you drive, be sure to learn the custom and rules. If you use hired drivers (such as in a taxi), don't be afraid to ask your driver to slow down or to drive more carefully. Use seat belts if possible.
What if you get sick while you are traveling?
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 travelers' 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.
Should you see a doctor when you return?
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:
- You were sick with a fever or severe flu-like illness while traveling.
- You develop these symptoms within 6 months of coming home.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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Before You Go
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 at least 6 weeks before you go so you'll have time to get vaccines or make other health preparations.
To get started
- Think about the type of shape you're in. Most travel, even if you are going on a guided tour, typically demands more physical effort than is required at home. Boost your fitness by starting an exercise program, such as fitness walking, in advance.
- Make a first aid kit with items such as pain relievers, sunscreen, insect repellent, moleskin, antifungal and antibacterial ointments, and antidiarrheal medicines.
- If you have health insurance, find out how your insurance works outside of the United States. If your insurance company doesn't cover you in other countries, you may want to think about buying travel health insurance. Use the Internet to search for "travel insurance compare" to get websites that help you compare types of travel insurance.
Get the information you need
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:
- www.cdc.gov/travel: Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on travel, required immunizations, and disease outbreaks
- www.who.int/ith/en: Information from the World Health Organization (WHO) on travel, required immunizations, and disease outbreaks
- www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp: Information on cruise ship sanitation inspection scores
- www.usembassy.gov: Information from the U.S. State Department on where to get the best medical care in the region you are visiting. It lists every U.S. embassy worldwide and lists some doctors and medical facilities in those countries. Take along the phone numbers and addresses of embassies in the areas you will visit.
Get needed vaccines and medicines
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 as soon as you can, or at least 6 weeks before traveling. Some vaccines need to be given in more than one dose, and you may need more than 6 weeks to get protection. You may need vaccines to protect against:
- Childhood infections, if they aren't up-to-date for you and your children. This includes shots for polio, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, and rubella.
- Tetanus , if you haven't received one in the last 10 years.
- Hepatitis A, if you are going to developing countries where the disease is common. The vaccine(What is a PDF document?) is given as two shots. The first hepatitis A shot usually works in about 4 weeks. It protects most people from getting hepatitis A. The second shot is given at least 6 months after the first shot and provides lasting protection.
- Yellow fever . This vaccine is now required for travelers who plan to visit countries in South America and Africa where the disease is active.
- The flu or complications of pneumonia.
- Typhoid fever , especially if you are traveling to an area where the risk of typhoid fever is high. These areas include Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Your doctor, health clinic, or health department will have the most recent recommendations.
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(What is a PDF document?).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.
Personal health needs
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.
- Carry a letter from your doctor describing your conditions, a list of your routine medicines including their generic names, and written prescriptions for refills if you will be gone long.
- Leave your prescription medicines in the original containers—your name must match the name on the bottle—and pack them in a waterproof container in your carry-on luggage. Take extra amounts of your routine medicines packed in checked luggage in case of theft or loss.
- If you have a heart condition, travel with a copy of your most recent electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) for comparison in case you have chest pain or other symptoms.
- If you have diabetes, you can take precautions to prevent problems while traveling. For example, wear a medical identification tag and take extra medicine with you..
- If you have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or other lung diseases, you may need to avoid stays in polluted cities or at high altitudes.
- If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor before making any travel decisions. If you decide to travel, take some general precautions while traveling, such as notifying the airline of your condition before you fly and taking a few walks while on a long flight to increase the blood circulation in your legs. (This is good advice for all travelers.)
Precautions Along the Way
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.
Tips for flying
Flying isn't always fun. But you can take steps to make it easier and to feel better during and after your flight.
- Pack anything that may cause problems at security—such as gels, liquids, sharp scissors, or pocket knives—in the luggage you plan to check. For an updated list of what isn't allowed in carry-on luggage, see the Transportation Security Administration website at www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.
- Wear roomy, comfortable shoes that slip on and off. These are easy to remove when you go through security at the airport. They will also be more comfortable if your feet swell on the plane.
- Walk around the plane during flights to prevent dangerous blood clots during long periods of travel. Sitting still for 4 hours or more slows down the blood flow in your legs and raises your blood clot risk.
- Take steps to prevent jet lag, such as drinking plenty of liquids and changing your sleep schedule to the new time zone.
Water and food safety
Contaminated water and food are the most common cause of illness in travelers.
- Don't drink tap water if it may not have been properly treated.
- Don't brush your teeth with tap water.
- Drink beverages made with boiled water, such as tea and coffee. Canned or bottled carbonated beverages (including bottled water and soft drinks), beer, and wine are also usually safe.
- Don't accept ice in drinks. It may be contaminated.
- Dry the opening of wet cans or bottles before taking a drink.
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.
- Avoid raw fruits (unless you wash and peel them yourself), raw vegetables, and raw or undercooked meat and seafood.
- Try to eat steaming hot, well-cooked food.
- Don't get foods or drinks from street vendors.
- Make sure dairy products have been pasteurized.
To learn more, see the topic Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling.
Swimming and water sports
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.
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:
- Use DEET or other insect repellents on your skin.
- Sleep under a bed net to prevent insects from biting you while you sleep. Permethrin or deltamethrin insecticide sprayed on bed nets will protect against mosquitoes for weeks to months.
- Use mosquito coils. The smoke from these slow-burning coils repels mosquitoes.
- Wear light-colored and loose-fitting long pants and long-sleeved shirts. This is especially important from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes that spread malaria bite. Insect repellent applied to clothing is effective for longer than it may be on the skin.
Do not use home remedies like eating garlic, rubbing garlic on your skin, or taking vitamin B. They do not prevent bites.
Sun and heat exposure
Many travelers underestimate the sun's strength and overestimate the amount of protection their sunscreens offer. This can add up to at least an uncomfortable sunburn and, at worst, life-threatening heatstroke.
Steps you can take to protect yourself from the sun include using sunscreen, wearing hats, and drinking plenty of fluids.
Although disease is a big risk while you are traveling, you should also be aware of the risk of injury.
Motor vehicle accidents. They are a leading cause of injury among travelers. Bad roads, poor driver training, and crowded
roadways can make driving dangerous in other countries.
- Learn local driving customs and road signs.
- Try to travel during daylight.
- Always use seat belts.
- Ask taxi drivers or other hired drivers to slow down or drive more carefully if you feel unsafe.
- Wear helmets and protective clothing when riding motorcycles or bicycles.
- Animal bites. Take care around dogs and other animals. Dogs in developing countries may bite, and rabies is a concern. If you are bitten by an animal, wash the bite with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.
- Wounds. Most wounds sustained in developing countries carry a higher risk of becoming infected. If you get even a minor wound, clean it as soon as possible with large amounts of warm water and soap. Apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage.
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.
Scuba diving safety
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:
- Only dive if you feel comfortable.
- Use equipment that you are familiar with and that is in good repair.
- Know what to do if something goes wrong.
- Always dive with a buddy.
- Go down and come up slowly. Don't hold your breath.
- Know and follow recommended depths and time limits.
- Allow enough time between your last dive and your flight home.
- The motion of cars, planes, trains, boats, or ships can make some people sick. If you know that you get motion sickness, pack medicines to prevent it. To learn more, see the topic Motion Sickness.
- Air pollution can pose a serious threat to those with asthma or other respiratory conditions. When air quality is poor, avoid the area or stay indoors as much as possible.
- Sexual activity can lead to sexually transmitted infections. Practice safer sex and use condoms to prevent infections.
What to Do if You Get Ill
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 dark-colored 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. They may help reduce the number of days you have the problem. But don't take antibiotics to prevent diarrhea.
Antidiarrheal medicines, such those containing bismuth (examples include Pepto-Bismol and Bismatrol) 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 probably 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.2
See your doctor when you get home if either of the following occurs:
- You were sick with a fever or severe flu-like illness while traveling.
- You develop these symptoms within 6 months of coming home.
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:
- Diarrhea that won't go away or that keeps coming back.
- A skin rash or sores.
- Jaundice (typically most noticeable when the whites of the eyes appear yellow).
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Shortness of breath.
Other Places To Get Help
|American Academy of Family Physicians|
|P.O. Box 11210|
|Shawnee Mission, KS 66207-1210|
The American Academy of Family Physicians offers information on adult and child health conditions and healthy living. Its Web site has topics on medicines, doctor visits, physical and mental health issues, parenting, and more.
|American College of Sports Medicine|
|401 West Michigan Street|
|Indianapolis, IN 46202-3233|
(317) 637-9200, ext. 127 or 133
The American College of Sports Medicine Task Force on Healthy Air Travel promotes exercise and physical activities that can be done while taking an airplane trip. They provide information about:
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Travelers' Health|
|1600 Clifton Road|
|Atlanta, GA 30333|
The CDC's Travelers' Health Web site provides health information for the traveler. The Web site provides information on immunizations that are needed for travel to various areas of the world. It also provides information for safe travel, including traveling with children and with people who have special needs. Information about current outbreaks of disease in the world is also provided. The CDC is the leading federal agency for protecting U.S. citizens' health and safety by providing credible health information and health promotion.
|International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers|
|1623 Military Road|
|Niagara Falls, NY 14304-1745|
The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to travel health. IAMAT can help you plan a healthy trip and help you find a qualified doctor if you have a medical emergency on your trip. Their goal is to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by international travelers.
|International Society of Travel Medicine|
|2386 Clower Street|
|Snellville, GA 30078|
The International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) provides education, service, and research in the field of travel medicine. ISTM focuses on preventive and curative medicine, infectious diseases, high altitude physiology, and travel-related obstetrics. Two other areas of focus are military medicine and migration medicine. ISTM's goals are to promote travel health, develop guidelines for travel medicine, and educate health professionals and people who work in the travel industry. ISTM's Web site has a travel clinic directory where travelers can search for a travel clinic near them.
|National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health|
|NIAID Office of Communications and Government Relations|
|6610 Rockledge Drive, MSC 6612|
|Bethesda, MD 20892-6612|
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases conducts research and provides consumer information on infectious and immune-system-related diseases.
|World Health Organization|
|Avenue Appia 20|
|1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland|
The World Health Organization (WHO) is an agency of the United Nations. It has about 200 member states. WHO promotes technical cooperation among nations on health issues, carries out programs to control and eliminate disease, and strives to improve the quality of human life.
The Web site has information on many health topics, including health and disease related to travel.
- Fischer M, et al. (2010). Japanese encephalitis vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR, 59(01): 1–27.
- Spira AM (2003). Assessment of travellers who return home ill. Lancet, 361(9367): 1459–1469.
Other Works Consulted
- Advice for travelers (2009). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 7(87): 83–94.
- 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.
- Committee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel (2005). Statement on personal protective measures to prevent arthropod bites. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 31: 1–20. Available online at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/05vol31/asc-dcc-4/.
- Ericsson CD (2007). Travel medicine. In PS Auerbach, ed., Wilderness Medicine, 5th ed., pp. 1808–1826. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.
- 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.
- Keystone JS, Kozarsky PE (2008). Health advice for international travel. In AS Fauci et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th ed., vol. 1, pp. 782–788. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Yellow Book 2010. Available online: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/content/yellowbook/home-2010.aspx.
- Weller PF (2009). Health advice for international travelers. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, Clinical Essentials, chap. 7. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease|
|Last Revised||August 7, 2012|
Last Revised: August 7, 2012
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