Preventative Health Measures When Traveling

Payton Brown, Reporter

Whether it’s just a stuffy nose or it causes you to miss a week of work, practically everyone has been sick at some point in their life. Some illnesses such as the flu are quite common in the United States (U.S.) while others have been mostly eradicated. However, some of these eradicated illnesses are being brought into the U.S. from other countries. Nicolas Vignier and Olivier Bouchaud wrote for The National Library of Medicine, “Emerging infectious diseases (EID) threaten public health and are sustained by increasing global commerce, travel and disruption of ecological systems. Travelers could play a role in importing EIDs and could be a sentinel of major epidemics.”  

Some people worry that immigrants entering the U.S. are causing this epidemic; however,  Nicolas Vignier and Olivier Bouchaud also wrote, “The role played by migrants is weaker than imagined (except for tuberculosis). Immigrants don’t play the role of sentinel epidemic so far.” Therefore immigrants who are moving into the country are not viewed as a primary cause of the emerging infectious diseases epidemic, with the exception of tuberculosis. While tuberculosis is a nasty illness, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) said, “TB case counts and incidence rates have steadily decreased in the United States since 1992,” so tuberculosis is not an illness that U.S. medical professionals are concerned about becoming an epidemic. Also, Howard Markel and Alexandra Stern in an article for the National Library of Medicine wrote that the U.S. requires those who are moving to the U.S.  “ to undergo medical examinations before leaving their countries of origin”; however, this is not required of travelers visiting the U.S. or returning home to the U.S. 

Since it is not required to undergo a medical examination before and after traveling it is recommended that you make sure that you aren’t accidentally bringing any infectious diseases with you. Many people don’t realize the importance of vaccinating and preparing before and after travel to avoid the spread of diseases. Preventative measures that people need in preparation for travel vary based on where a person is traveling. For example, Alliyah Lopez, a Colorado resident, was given a yellow fever vaccination, and malaria pills in preparation for a Peace Corp stay in Africa, but these would not be the same vaccinations required to travel to Mongolia. It is recommended that you speak to your healthcare provider before traveling to determine what preventative steps you should take. That is exactly what Briana Black did. 

Black has always enjoyed traveling and has spent a lot of time babysitting and playing with children. Therefore, when she got the chance to travel to Thailand for a year and teach English, she was ecstatic. Black had traveled out of the country before on family vacations, but only to Western Europe which required minimal vaccination due to the development and medical atmosphere being very similar to that of the United States. Thailand was very different from other locations she had traveled to before and this was her first trip out of the country by herself. Along with that, she had never stayed in another country for an extended period. She had always only been visiting for a short amount of time. All of this put together made the trip both terrifying and exciting for her.

 The U.S. has access to more advanced medical technology, and a higher ability to distribute and create preventative measures than most second and third-world countries. As a result, there are many illnesses that can be easily prevented and cured in the U.S. that pose a bigger threat in less developed countries. Along with that, different regions of the world have different climates that allow different diseases to thrive. For example, malaria is a prevalent issue in Thailand. An article on the Borgen Project website said,According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 32 million people are at risk of being infected with malaria in Thailand.” In comparison, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) has about 1,500 cases of malaria reported a year, most of which are from returning travelers.

Black said that while planning her trip she used the World Health Organization website in order to see what vaccinations she needed. The World Health Organization (WHO) has extensive lists for each country detailing what vaccinations are recommended when entering a country, and explaining who is most at risk for certain illnesses. After looking at the WHO website Black went and spoke to her doctor about getting the vaccinations required for her trip. 

Acquiring vaccinations for traveling can be more of a hassle than getting vaccinations that are common in the U.S. This is due to the rarity of these vaccines in the region. Black said, “For some of these shots, like the typhoid and yellow fever shot, they’ll have to special order because it’s not something they keep in stock. So talk to your doctor so they can get it ordered.” Black also had to work in the time to attend a local health fair into her busy schedule to go get her typhoid vaccine. It is important to talk to a healthcare provider early because of the time it may take for them to get the vaccinations you require. Along with that Black said that she had to start her malaria pills a few weeks before leaving the U.S. in order for them to be properly effective when she left the U.S. 

Black also mentioned that while Covid-19 vaccines are no longer required to enter most countries, there are various Covid-19 guidelines  and restrictions in different countries. She recommended looking into Covid-19 restrictions of the country you are planning to visit in order to be prepared for and aware of what to expect.

While she was medically preparing for her trip Black was also arranging her trip through a travel organization called Greenheart Travel which helped her to set up her travel method and connected her with Explore Asia once she reached Thailand. Explore Asia helped her to find a place to live. She ended up living on her own in an apartment above a restaurant. The woman who owned the restaurant was very helpful to Black and helped her to adjust to life in Thailand. The woman helped her to understand Thai customs and culture. 

Despite the help of her kind landlord Black still struggled to adjust to life in Thailand. Black explained that the language barrier was one of her biggest challenges, “Thailand was very challenging because I went over not knowing any of the language. Which you know is fairly common when you do stuff like this, especially to countries in Asia. Not a lot of people speak those languages here or teach those languages, so trying to figure out how everything worked in an entirely different language, where no one spoke English was very challenging.” Thankfully, after some time in Thailand Black began to pick up on bits of the language and was eventually conversational in the language. Being able to have basic conversations in Thai significantly helped Black to understand and interact with the people around her and made her stay less daunting.

Disease prevention didn’t end for Black when she left the United States. Throughout her stay in Thailand, and later during a separate trip to Tanzania Black had to take malaria pills. It was important for her to remember to take the pill every day. The National Library of Medicine said, “Treatment success of all combined studies was 98%” when referring to a study on the effectiveness of malaria pills. However, when the pills are not taken with the proper frequency that the effectiveness reduces. She then had to take another sort of pill when she reentered the U.S. to help her body to adjust to the lack of the malaria pill.

While in Tanzania Black was also given a tablet that she was supposed to take regularly, unless she was certain that the water she was drinking was properly filtered.  This tablet was there to help calm her stomach if it became upset due to unclean water. It also helped to prevent catching any diseases from unclean drinking water. W.H.O. said, “Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with feces.” Feces is not the only thing that can contaminate water. There are a number of diseases and parasites that can survive in and be transmitted through water.

When you go in to get your vaccinations the doctor will mark on a yellow card what vaccinations you received. Black had her doctor write down all the vaccinations she had received through her life so that if something happened while in another country the medical professional she went to would know what she had already received. This ended up being helpful to Black. During her time in Tanzania, Black accidentally cut her arm on a rusty piece of metal while exploring. As she looked at the dripping cut, she worried about whether she would have to go to a doctor to have it treated. However, her vaccination card showed that she had her tetanus shot, which prevented her from having to seek medical attention for the cut. 

Not only is proper disease prevention important for your health, it is also sometimes required to enter certain countries. Black said, “I had to have it with me at all times in Tanzania. If I left Tanzania and came back and didn’t have this I would not be allowed entry back into the country. This is just as important as a passport for foreign individuals in a lot of African countries.”  It was required for her to have her vaccination card to be allowed to enter the country. This is one of the country’s measures to prevent the spread of disease. In countries where means of treatment are more limited, prevention is very important. 

All in all, it is important and sometimes required to take the proper steps to prevent the spread of diseases. It helps to keep both the country you are visiting and your home country healthier. If you are traveling make sure that you are healthy before leaving home, and before returning. Vaccinations and other preventive measures help to ensure that you remain healthy and that you don’t bring any illnesses home with you.