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How to stay well when traveling abroad

May 4, 2022

Our doc offers vaccines, best practices for visits to other countries

Whether you’re traveling out of the country for the holidays or planning a mission trip, C. David Bakken, M.D., Board-Certified Immunologist and Infectious Diseases Specialist with Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) Medical Group, points out that when it comes to international travel, urban locales present fewer risks than rural towns. At NCH’s Travel Medicine Clinic, Dr. Bakken screens and vaccinates patients to prevent exposure to the following diseases:

1. Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is transmitted person-to-person by ingesting contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person. Travel to developing countries with poor sanitary conditions and hygienic practices present the highest risk of exposure, specifically rural areas of Africa, the Middle East and Central and South America.

Anyone who has adhered to the modern-day vaccination schedule has been fully vaccinated for hepatitis A.

“I encourage patients to receive both hepatitis A vaccinations,” says Dr. Bakken. “Together, they ensure lifetime immunity. The hepatitis A vaccine is one of the few vaccinations to be effective for life.”

2. Typhoid fever

Another serious disease spread by contaminated food and water, typhoid fever is found in developing countries and especially south Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Travelers should receive a typhoid fever vaccine that can be administered through a vaccine, especially when traveling to rural towns and villages. The vaccine has an efficacy rate of 50 to 80 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

3. Traveler’s diarrhea

The most common travel-related illness that can be found anywhere, traveler’s diarrhea is most widespread in the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, Central and South America, and many cities in Asia.

No vaccine exists to prevent traveler’s diarrhea, so careful consideration of food and drink as well as keeping hands clean is critical to prevention. Appropriate antibodies can be prescribed for effective therapeutic use, not prophylactically.

Pay attention to food and drink

Since hepatitis A, typhoid fever and traveler’s diarrhea can all be spread through contaminated food and drink, travelers should pay close attention to what they ingest and opt for hot, freshly cooked foods and vegetables and fruit washed in clean water. Sealed bottled water is the safest and remember that ice should be made with bottled or disinfected water.

Harder to prevent diseases

In addition to the diseases spread through unsanitary conditions, travelers to tropical and subtropical destinations are at risk of contracting diseases spread by mosquitos. These diseases are more difficult to prevent without vaccinations or preventative medications. In some cases, travelers may have to show proof of vaccination to enter a country that has a high incidence of the disease.

1. Malaria

Serious and potentially fatal, malaria transmission can occur in areas of Africa, South Asia, parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Malaria prevention starts with preventative medicine taken before travel. Dr. Bakken works with his patients who are planning travel to determine which medication will be most appropriate for them.

2. Yellow fever

Travelers to the Amazon River basin, countries in West and Central Africa, as well as Central and South America are required to prove immunization from yellow fever to enter the country, likely due to the seriousness of the disease. Yellow fever has a 30 to 40 percent mortality rate, so vaccination is critical.

3. Zika virus

“We are seeing less Zika virus thanks to herd immunity in the Caribbean, Central America and Brazil,” points out Dr. Bakken. “Nonetheless, travelers should still be wary of contracting it and take precautions,” i.e. wear loose fitting long clothing and apply DEET to exposed skin.

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