Vacation and travel planning should include thinking about health, Utah doctors say

Doctors from the University of Utah Health travel clinic are urging summer international travelers to prevent travel-related health issues by planning ahead. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — As summer is beginning, many Utahns are planning vacations. Doctors at the University of Utah travel clinic say such planning should include thinking about health. This means immunizations, being aware of health concerns at the travel location and considering insurance.

A University of Utah Health travel clinic helps people prepare for international vacations, and get information about how to make sure that health issues don’t interrupt a vacation. Doctors from the clinic urged summer international travelers to prepare and prevent travel-related health issues at a press conference on Friday.

Pre-travel steps

Dr. Jakrapun Pupaibool, assistant professor of infectious diseases at University of Utah Health, said they emphasize taking steps to prepare before travel, although they also address illnesses after travel for people who return with fever, diarrhea, respiratory illness and others.

“We like them to enjoy that trip and not be sick during the trip,” he said.

Pupaibool said at the clinic, doctors create a risk assessment considering a vacation’s location, length and anticipated activities, along with the health of the individual. Individual recommendations can include immunizations, over-the-counter medications to bring, and even prescription antibiotics to take on the trip and use if needed.

Appointments at the clinic fill up, and it also takes time for some vaccines to become effective, so planning ahead for this is important. Pupaibool suggests meeting with a doctor about six weeks before a trip.

Pupaibool said that data shows about 20-25% of travelers have health issues during a trip or shortly after getting home. He said changes in diet from travel can lead to diarrhea, the most common thing they see. Pupaibool said they can prescribe medication for this before a trip, but travelers should also take over-the-counter drugs with them to address mild diarrhea.

The second most common issue is fever from infections like malaria, which can also be addressed before a trip.

“Many infections that we see, they are preventable … either by vaccine or by medications,” Pupaibool said.

He said some vaccines are required to enter a country or get a visa, but there are even more that they may recommend. Some vaccines, like the yellow fever vaccine, are not available from primary care physicians but are available at the travel clinic. The clinic can also help people get updated on other routine adult vaccines.

Pupaibool also suggests doing research about local medical care before a trip and whether your health or travel insurance will help with international health care.

What about COVID-19 and monkeypox?

Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the U., said part of this is considering COVID-19; people should be careful in airplanes and on a jetway because COVID-19 can spread really quickly. He said the highest risk for contracting COVID-19 is at the airport or on the plane, which is why he wears a mask in these situations.

“Domestic travel is probably just as much of a risk,” he said.

Swaminathan also said that when traveling there are other COVID-19 factors to consider based on various countries’ travel requirements. The United States still requires a negative COVID-19 test to fly back into the country, meaning it may be a good idea to be prepared in case a traveler needs to stay in the country to quarantine.

“Depending on what your circumstances are and where you’re going, trip cancellation or interruption insurance is actually maybe necessary, even if you’re not sick,” he said, talking about quarantine requirements.

Swaminathan said monkeypox at this point is not a travel-associated concern, but he suggests avoiding risks, specifically having casual sex with people you don’t know well.

“People take a lot of risks when they’re on vacation. … Unfortunately, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas,” he said.

He said it could be possible to get monkeypox from having a long conversation, like sitting really close to someone on a plane, but that likely there would need to be liquids exchanged in that conversation.

Swaminathan said that there are other diseases, like Zika, that may burst in a population that doesn’t have immunity. He said pregnant women need to be particularly careful about some diseases, like Zika. The clinic also gives updated information about diseases in certain areas.

What about sickness from activities?

Pupaibool said travelers, especially in tropical countries, can deal with other health issues because of the heat and the amount of activity they are doing. He suggests travelers stay hydrated, keep clean bottled water with them and have some electrolytes.

He said if someone gets sick with heatstroke or something similar, they should see a local health care provider.

Pupaibool suggests bringing a simple first aid kit with medications for pain, allergies and inflammation.

Swaminathan said their office provides a booklet that talks about health issues associated with altitude, scuba diving and a variety of other things, which is available at the clinic and at public health department satellite travel clinics.

“It’s good to think about this well ahead of time,” he said.

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Emily Ashcraft joined as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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