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To Your Health: Traveling abroad? Don’t bring unwanted ‘souvenirs’ home

Dr. Kanayo K. Odelug |  Supplied photo

Dr. Kanayo K. Odeluga | Supplied photo

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Updated: May 24, 2014 6:11AM



International travel can be a wonderful experience.

However, travel is not without risk, especially to developing countries, whether for business, pleasure or visiting family and/or friends.

If you’re planning a trip abroad, your first stop should be at a travel medicine clinic for a pretravel consultation with a travel medicine specialist. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends such a visit about six weeks in advance of your expected departure date.

As many as 45 million Americans travel abroad each year. About one-third of those experience a travel-related illness.

A study of travelers to developing countries and eastern Europe revealed that more than one-third experienced some type of illness during their trip. Those travelers “lost” an average of three days to illness on a typical two-week trip. Almost 20 percent of them remained ill after their return home, and 10 percent sought medical care for their illnesses.

Common travel-related health problems include travel diarrhea, respiratory problems, skin disorders, fever and trauma. Many of these health problems are preventable, and the risk of exposure to some of these can be reduced for a well-informed traveler.

Consult a travel
medicine specialist

The initial goal of the pretravel consultation is to determine potential health risks facing the traveler based on his or her medical history, travel destination, mode of travel, itinerary of destination, purpose of travel and season of travel.

Travel clinic providers have access to the most accurate, up-to-date information on what diseases exist in every country, including the latest outbreaks. They will communicate these risks to the traveler in ways that empower and inform.

A plan for mitigating and reducing the identified risks is then made. This plan may include vaccine administration, medication prescriptions to prevent diseases, such as malaria, or to treat conditions that arise during travel, such as diarrhea.

An informed traveler is a safe traveler.

A travel medicine specialist can offer safeguards on how to reduce your chances of developing diseases that are present at your destination. All administered vaccines are entered into a traveler’s yellow book provided by the World Health Organization.

Travelers carry this book with them to provide a record of immunizations required for entry into some countries. For example, some countries in which yellow fever is not present will refuse entry to those who are arriving from a country where yellow fever exists unless they can show proof of having an up-to-date vaccine.

No vaccine or preventative medicine is going to be 100 percent effective, so you must exercise caution in exposing yourself to various things. During your visit with a travel medicine specialist, you also will receive instructions about how to eat foods and drink water safely so as to decrease your risk for typhoid, traveler’s diarrhea and other maladies. As part of your consultation you also will receive valuable jet lag and motion sickness information.

Upon your return home, if you feel as if you may have contracted something on your trip, you can return to the travel medicine specialist for post-travel evaluation and any necessary treatment.

Whether you are traveling for work, pleasure, missionary projects or visiting family or friends, a pretravel consultation with a travel medicine specialist can help make the most of your travel experience.

Call a full-service travel clinic, such as Franciscan St. James Health’s International Travel Clinic at (708) 709-2000, to fully prepare for your trip.

Dr. Kanayo K. Odeluga is the medical director of the Franciscan St. James Occupational Health Center and International Travel Clinic. Franciscan St. James Health is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.



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