In the United States or abroad? For business or pleasure? When you travel, you risk coming into contact with germs you might not find at home. Many of these germs can make you very sick.
For people with special health needs, travel can be risky to their health. If you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- the virus that causes AIDS -- you should have all the facts. Travel, especially to developing countries, can increase your risk of getting opportunistic infections. (They are called "opportunistic" because a person may get the infection when their weakened immune system gives it the opportunity to develop.) The best thing you can do when you travel is to know the medical risks and to take steps to protect yourself.
Wondering if you should get an HIV test? The answer is: Yes.
"Everybody needs to be tested for HIV at least once," says Brad Hare, director of the HIV/AIDS Division at San Francisco General Hospital. Fortunately, HIV testing is easier, quicker, and more accurate than it used to be. And because HIV treatment is more effective these days, getting tested isn’t as scary.
Talk to your doctor about your travel plans before your trip.
Take special care with food and water.
Protect your health (and the health of others) just as you do at home.
Before You Travel
Talk to your doctor or an expert in travel medicine about health risks in the area you plan to visit. They can tell you how to keep yourself healthy when you travel to places where certain illnesses are a problem. They also can tell you about places that might not be safe for you to visit. Ask them if they know of doctors who treat people with HIV in the region you plan to visit.
Plan in advance for problems that might come up.
Traveler's diarrhea is a common problem. Carry a 3- to 7-day supply of medicine (antibiotics) to treat it. A common drug for traveler's diarrhea is ciprofloxacin (SIP-ro-flocks-uh-sin). If you are pregnant, your doctor may suggest you take TMP- SMX (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (try-METH-o-prim -- sul-fa-meth-OX-uh-sole)) instead.
Insect-borne diseases are also a major problem in many areas. Take a good supply of an insect repellent that contains 30 percent or less "Deet" with you. Plan to sleep under a mosquito net, preferably one treated with permethrin, in places where there is malaria or dengue (DEN-gay) fever. Unless you need to go there, avoid areas where yellow fever is found.
Ask your doctor if you need to take medicine or get special vaccinations before you travel. He or she will know which vaccines are safe for you. Your doctor will also know the best ways to protect you from such things as malaria, typhoid fever, and hepatitis. Make sure all your routine vaccinations are up to date. This is very important for HIV-infected children who are traveling.
If you are leaving the United States, make sure you know if the countries you plan to visit have special health rules for visitors. These rules can include vaccinations that may not be safe for HIV-infected people to take. Your doctor or local health department can help you with this.
If you have medical insurance, check to see what it covers when you are away from home. Many insurance plans have limited benefits outside the United States. Very few plans cover the cost of flying you back to the United States if you become very sick. Make sure your paperwork is in order, and take along proof of insurance when you travel.