Doctors from the University of Utah Health Travel Clinic are urging international summer travelers to prevent travel-related health issues by planning ahead. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
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Salt Lake City – With the onset of summer, many Utahns are planning vacations. Doctors at the University of Utah Travel Clinic say such planning should include thinking about health. That means vaccinations, realizing your travel site health concerns and considering insurance.
The University of Utah Health Travel Clinic helps people prepare for international vacations and get information on how to make sure health issues don’t interrupt vacation. Clinic doctors urged international summer travelers to prepare and prevent travel-related health issues at a press conference Friday.
Steps before traveling
They emphasize taking steps to prepare before travel, although they also treat illnesses after travel for people who return with fever, diarrhea, respiratory illness and others, said Dr. Jakrapon Popipol, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Utah Health.
“We like them to enjoy that trip and not get sick during the trip,” he said.
At the clinic, doctors create a risk assessment considering the location and duration of the leave and expected activities, along with the individual’s health, Pupaibool said. Individual recommendations can include vaccinations, over-the-counter medications, and even prescribed antibiotics for the trip and their use if needed.
Clinic appointments are full and it takes some time for some vaccinations to become effective, so planning ahead is important. Pupaibool suggests seeing a doctor about six weeks before the trip.
Pupaibool said the data shows that about 20-25% of travelers develop health problems during the flight or soon after returning home. He said changes in diet from traveling can lead to diarrhea, which is the most common thing they see. Pupaibool said they can prescribe medication for this before the flight, but that travelers should also take over-the-counter medication with them to treat mild diarrhea.
The second most common problem is a fever caused by an infection such as malaria, which can also be treated before a flight.
“Many of the infections we see can be prevented … either with a vaccine or with medication,” Popipol said.
He said some vaccinations are required to enter a country or obtain a visa, but there are more they might recommend. Some vaccines, such as the yellow fever vaccine, are not available from primary care physicians but are available at a travel clinic. The clinic can also help people learn about other routine adult vaccinations.
Pupaibool also suggests doing research on local medical care before the trip and whether your health or travel insurance will help you with international health care.
What about covid-19 and monkeypox?
Part of this is studying COVID-19, said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of pediatric infectious diseases; People should be careful in planes and on jet runways because COVID-19 can spread very quickly. He said the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 is at the airport or on the plane, which is why he wears a mask in these situations.
“Domestic travel is probably just as risky,” he said.
Swaminathan also said that when traveling, there are other COVID-19 factors to consider based on travel requirements in different countries. The US is still requiring a negative COVID-19 test to return to the country, which means it may be a good idea to be prepared in case a traveler needs to stay in the country for quarantine.
“Depending on your circumstances and where you’re going, a trip cancellation or interruption insurance might actually be necessary, even if you’re not sick,” he said of the quarantine requirements.
Swaminathan said monkeypox at this point is not a travel concern, but suggests avoiding risks, specifically casual sex with people you don’t know well.
“People take a lot of risk when they’re on vacation,” he said. “…Unfortunately, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.”
He said it might be possible to catch monkeypox through a long conversation, such as sitting close to someone on a plane, but that fluid exchange would likely be needed in that conversation.
Swaminathan said there are other diseases, such as Zika, that may explode in a community without immunity. He said pregnant women need to be especially vigilant about certain diseases, such as Zika. The clinic also provides up-to-date information on diseases in certain areas.
What about the disease of activities?
Pupaibool said travelers, especially in tropical countries, can deal with other health issues due to the heat and the amount of activity they are doing. Travelers are suggested to stay hydrated, keep clean bottled water with them and have some electrolytes.
He said if someone gets heatstroke or something similar, they should see a local health care provider.
Pupaibool suggests bringing a simple first aid kit along with medications for pain, allergies, and infections.
Swaminathan said their office provides a brochure on health issues associated with altitude, diving and a variety of other things, which is available at the clinic and at the Department of Public Health’s satellite travel clinics.
“It’s good to think about this early on,” he said.