All About Travel Medicine

What can go wrong?
Americans take for granted the wonderful health care system in place in the United States. Every state has outstanding regional hospitals and trauma centers with well-trained specialists. That is NOT the case in many countries. In fact, if something goes wrong on your trip health wise, the traveler can be in for a nightmare.

The cost of medical evacuation of a sick or injured person is extremely high. If a traveling executive has an illness or injury, a company may have to spend $30,000 to airlift the person to another country that has a medical center, or back to the United States. If you are traveling for yourself, rather than business, you may not be able to afford the cost to evacuate yourself to an area with high quality health care.

The objective, consequently, with your travel is to:

  1. Educate yourself about health risk in the country you are visiting. What are common diseases? What insects are there and what would happen if you were bitten? How can you protect yourself from insect bites? Your travel medicine expert will have educational material that will prepare you for your trip and your destination.
  2. Immunize yourself to those diseases found in that country. Your travel medicine doctor should advise you accordingly.
  3. Have fun while visiting your destination, but be cautious. Remember that many countries are not equipped to handle serious trauma.  Americans expect the government to regulate the safety of boats, equipment and vehicles. In many other countries, there is no government regulation.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as other public agencies have set up guidelines and health information for the international traveler. Travelers should seek advice 4 to 6 weeks before they depart for their travel so that it allows adequate time for immunization. Through immunization, a physician injects a harmless version of the disease into your body. By doing so, your body develops an internal immunity to the live disease organism. This immunization process may take a few weeks, so it is important to allow your body time to adjust before you travel. In other words, don’t expect to immunize yourself the day before your trip. Also, you will need extra time to obtain prescriptions.

The practice of Travel Medicine requires an understanding of medical geography, including factors of the environment, culture, climate, and ecology. Political as well as socio-economic factors may affect the practice. An understanding of the natural history of infectious diseases and their treatment is crucial and a good medical background is an asset. We need also to understand that the field of travel medicine is a dynamic one and needs to be constantly updated on outbreaks and emerging infectious diseases occurring around the world. The prevention of importation of infectious disease from another country is a major health and political issue. The control of outbreaks and the prevention of spread of such disease across borders is a major goal for all countries. Public education is therefore an important aspect of the practice of travel medicine.

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