See a travel medicine doctor before you explore the world

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If you are planning a trip overseas this summer, your checklist of preparations will include a passport, visas and foreign currency. It should also include an appointment with a travel medicine doctor, especially for travel in developing countries.

“Ideally, the travel appointment should take place at least a month before your departure date, since most vaccines take two to four weeks to be effective,” says Dr. Pamela Yung, a family medicine doctor and travel medicine specialist at the UW Neighborhood Factoria Clinic. “Bring your itinerary and vaccination record so your provider can give you the best advice for your trip.”

Be prepared

The travel medicine appointment is designed to help you prepare for health risks in the areas you plan to visit. While it is a good idea to discuss your plans with your regular doctor – particularly, if you have concerns about your fitness to travel or need extra supplies of medications – a travel medicine specialist works at a clinic that regularly dispenses vaccines for typhoid, yellow fever, and Japanese encephalitis as well as all routine vaccinations.

“During the appointment, we discuss the health risks associated with itineraries that go in and out of malaria zones, adventure travel, high-altitude destinations, cruises, and travel in remote areas,” says Yung. “If appropriate, I provide vaccines, medications to prevent malaria, and prescriptions for a range of potential problems, such as traveler’s diarrhea, insect bites, altitude sickness, seasickness, and jet lag.”

Get immunized

Another goal of the appointment is to make sure routine vaccines are up to date for flu, childhood diseases, and tetanus. Although some diseases rarely occur in the United States, they are still common in many parts of the world. This is also a good time for adults to get the vaccine for hepatitis A, a vaccine that offers excellent protection against a disease found in many foreign destinations as well as here in the U.S..

Certain situations call for additional advice: When traveling with infants on formula, you will need a source of clean water. If road trips are planned, consider bringing a car seat for small children. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should try to avoid travel to a yellow fever area because the live vaccine for yellow fever is not recommended for them.

Since natural immunity diminishes over time, people born in developing countries should also be attentive to health risks if they are going home after an absence of more than several years.

Consider purchasing travel insurance when going abroad in case of medical emergency or if a need to evacuate the country arises.

“A final consideration is that malaria can develop after your trip. Be sure to see your doctor for a fever or any residual illness and mention that you have recently traveled,” advises Yung. “By taking these precautions, my hope is that you will return home with wonderful memories and only a travel bug for your next overseas adventure.”

Tips for staying healthy during travel

  • Don’t pet stray animals because of the risk for rabies. If you are bitten, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Wear sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Apply sunscreen first, wait 15 to 30 minutes, then apply mosquito repellent.
  • Drink clean water in the form of bottled, filtered, or boiled water. All fruits should be washed and peeled.
  • Remember to wear your seat belt. Car accidents are the leading cause of injury death for travelers.

Helpful websites

These sites have valuable resources for international travelers, including a country-by-country list of recommended vaccines, warnings about malaria, Ebola, COVID-19 and other serious diseases, and alerts about certain countries where the yellow fever vaccine may be required by international health regulations.

Pamela Mei Yung, M.D. is a board-certified family medicine physician and the clinic chief at the UW Medicine Primary Care at Factoria. Dr. Yung’s clinical interests include women’s health, travel medicine, pediatrics and preventative medicine. Dr. Yung enjoys helping patients take care of all aspects of their health. She believes it is important to help patients understand their healthcare options so they can make informed medical decisions. Dr. Yung enjoys spending time with her husband and family. She often spends free time exploring the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, traveling and cooking.