Staying healthy during travel is usually a matter of common sense, with extra attention given to insect, food, water and security precautions. With minimal alteration in lifestyle, your trip can be an exciting, healthy and rewarding adventure.
Before You Travel
If you are planning to travel internationally, you should consult a physician or travel medicine clinic at least four to six weeks before travel in order to allow enough time for any immunizations that may be required to be completed. This is especially true for those planning travel to tropical areas or developing countries.
A health professional will be able to assess your individual need for immunization or preventative medication depending on your health situation, previous immunization history and your travel itinerary.
You should ensure that your routine immunizations - diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella- are up-to-date. If you normally receive influenza vaccine, it should be continued for travel.
Immunizations to prevent typhoid and hepatitis A are recommended for travel to areas where sanitary conditions are poor.
In travel to remote areas or where special risks exist, immunizations against meningitis, Japanese encephalitis, European tick-borne encephalitis, hepatitis B or rabies may be recommended.
Yellow fever vaccination is mandatory for entry into some countries in Central Africa and South America. Travellers to these countries must possess an international certificate of vaccination to certify that they have had yellow fever vaccination. An additional 102 countries, while not requiring proof of vaccination for travellers arriving direct from Ireland, do require a yellow fever certificate is there has been a stop-over in a country where yellow fever occurs..
If you are travelling to a country or area where malaria occurs, you will need to obtain a sufficient supply of antimalarial medication to begin taking the drug for a full week before departure, for the entire duration of travel in the malarial area, and for four weeks after leaving the area.
The actual medication to be taken will vary depending on the particular strain of malaria present in the country or area to be visited and whether or not resistance to drugs has developed.
Preventing malaria in travellers includes personal protective measures to reduce the risk of mosquito bites, as well as the appropriate use of antimalarial medications. Travellers to areas where there is a risk of malaria should consult a physician or travel medicine clinic in order to obtain individualized advice regarding malaria prevention during travel.
While En Route
If you are travelling to an area with malaria, be sure to take your antimalarial medication regularly. Failure to do so will lessen the protectiveness of the medication.
To prevent dengue fever and malaria, avoid mosquito bites. Use insect repellent during the day and especially between dusk and dawn. Sleep in well- screened or air conditioned accommodation or use bed nets, preferably impregnated with an insecticide. Wear trousers and long sleeves at dusk wherever possible.
When travelling to warmer or tropical climates, use sun block (SPF 15 or greater) regularly, especially if you are taking medications (such as tetracycline) which increase skin sensitivity to the sun.
Traveller's diarrhea or "tourista" is usually caused by differences in the purity of the water consumed while travelling. The water in some countries can contain organisms which will cause diarrhea in those not accustomed to them. Because Canada's municipal water supplies are treated to remove most waterborne organisms, travellers from Canada may experience diarrhea if they consume local water or food prepared with local water while travelling abroad in less developed countries.
When You Return
Take your antimalarial medication for the full course as prescribed.
If you have been to an area where malaria occurs and you develop fever during the first year after return (especially in the first two months) see your doctor immediately and remind him/her that:
you have travelled to an area where malaria occurs;
antimalarial medication does not guarantee absolute protection against malaria; and malaria must be ruled out by one or more thick and thin blood films.
Travel Health Insurance
More and more, provincial health plans are reducing coverage for out-of-country travel or imposing restrictions on the coverage provided. You should arrange for private travel health insurance to pay for any costs which are not covered by your provincial plan. Should an illness occur during travel, the costs which the uninsured traveller can be required to pay may be thousands of dollars.
If you require medication for existing medical conditions, take a sufficient supply for all your needs during travel. These must be in clearly labelled containers and a copy of the doctor's medical prescription should be carried. Essential medication should be divided and stored in two different pieces of luggage, so that if one piece of luggage is delayed, lost or stolen, an alternate supply is available.
It is recommended that a medical certificate of explanation be carried, should a physician advise that a supply of sterile syringes and needles be carried for use by qualified health personnel in an emergency situation.
The use of these sterile items will prevent the possible transmission of AIDS, hepatitis B and other diseases from contaminated needles and syringes. However, in many countries where illicit drug trafficking is a problem, a traveller found carrying syringes without adequate explanation and medical certification, can be in serious trouble with police authorities.