Travel Health - 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 several months 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, medicine for motion sickness, 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:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/travel): This site has information on travel health and safety, required immunizations, and disease outbreaks.
  • World Health Organization (www.who.int/ith/en): You'll find information on travel, recommended immunizations, and disease outbreaks throughout the world.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program (www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp): This site contains information from the CDC about cruise ship sanitation inspection scores.
  • U.S. State Department (www.usembassy.gov): Information 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.

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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 several months before your trip, or as soon as you can. Some vaccines need to be given in more than one dose. For example, if you need protection from hepatitis A, you'll need two doses of hepatitis A vaccine spaced at least 6 months apart.

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(What is a PDF document?), diphtheria(What is a PDF document?), measles(What is a PDF document?), whooping cough (pertussis)(What is a PDF document?), mumps(What is a PDF document?), and rubella(What is a PDF document?).
  • Tetanus (What is a PDF document?) , if you haven't received one in the last 10 years.
  • Hepatitis A (What is a PDF document?) , 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.
  • Hepatitis B (What is a PDF document?) .
  • Yellow fever (What is a PDF document?) . This vaccine is now required for travelers who plan to visit countries in South America and Africa where the disease is active.
  • The flu(What is a PDF document?) or complications of pneumonia (PPSV vaccine(What is a PDF document?) or PCV vaccine(What is a PDF document?)).
  • Typhoid fever (What is a PDF document?) , 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.
  • Rabies (What is a PDF document?) , if you may be handling or near animals in parts of the world where rabies is common.

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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.

Malaria

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.

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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.)
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

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