Baylor College of Medicine News

Travel medicine clinics can help families prep for international vacations

Families preparing to vacation overseas this summer can benefit from visiting a travel medicine clinic, said a Baylor College of Medicine pediatrician and travel medicine expert.

"There are many precautions parents can take prior to travelling to ensure personal safety and prevention of illness overseas," said Dr. Heidi Schwarzwald, an associate professor of pediatrics at BCM and director of the Travel Medicine Clinic at Texas Children's Hospital.

It is important to rely on travel medicine experts to offer these tips, Schwarzwald said. "While most travelers -- especially those with children -- are accustomed to receiving advice and immunizations from their primary care physician, it can be a challenging task for the busy practitioner to stay abreast of the latest developments in non-routinely administered vaccines."

Vaccines

Each traveler is unique and their risk for disease exposure is dependent upon their age, health status, travel destination, duration of stay and type of accommodations.

Most countries do not have vaccine requirements for entry. However, several require visitors to receive vaccines such as yellow fever and meningococcal prior to entry, Schwarzwald said.

"Vaccines such as rabies and typhoid are not routinely offered by primary care providers," said Schwarzwald. "Additionally, yellow fever vaccine can only be administered at a government-designated site."

Travel medicine experts have the most up-to-date information on country-specific entry requirements and concerns such as disease outbreaks or areas of political instability.

"While prevention of acquiring an infectious disease is emphasized, personal safety of the traveler and strategies to avoid environmental risks in the host country are also provided," said Schwarzwald.

Several interventions are limited by the traveler's age and the length of time in which individuals seek advice prior to departure.

It's important to visit travel medicine clinics at least 4-6 weeks prior to your trip, Schwarzwald said. "Some vaccines take at least two weeks to become effective while others may require multiple doses."

Food and water safety

Depending on the location, it may not be recommended to drink local water. Travelers can either drink bottled or boiled water; ice should also be avoided in these areas, Schwarzwald said.

This will impact food intake as well.

"It may not be recommended to eat fresh fruits and vegetables" said Schwarzwald. "In such locales, travelers are encouraged to wash fruit with bottled or boiled water then peel prior to consumption."

Prevention of malaria, insect bites

It is important for travelers to be attuned to the threat of malaria and other diseases transmitted by mosquito and insect bites, two common experiences that can turn a vacation into a hospital stay.

"Medication to prevent acquisition of malaria is available," said Schwarzwald. "Depending on the medication prescribed, it is necessary to begin taking the medicine one to two days or one to two weeks prior to travel. The use of insect repellents is still recommended as other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes can only be prevented by preventing insect or mosquito bites."

"Traveling internationally can be an exciting experience for the whole family," said Schwarzwald. "It's important to take the necessary precautions to ensure that experience is a safe and healthy one."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent resource, Schwarzwald said. Locally, the Travel Medicine Clinic at Texas Children's Hospital is an excellent resource to help keep both adults and children healthy as they prepare for international travel.