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Traveling abroad this summer? See your doc first

Find out what precautions, such as vaccines and medications, can help protect your family when you travel to make for a safe and enjoyable vacation.

Planning a trip abroad for the summer?  Consider potential health risks that may lurk at your destination. It's important to check with your doctor to find out what precautions, such as vaccines or medications, can help protect your family.

Here's why. While virtually nonexistent in the United States, measles is still a common disease in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. This vaccine preventable disease infects about 20 million people and kills about 164,000 people per year. The majority of these deaths are among children, and more than half of these deaths occur in India. Measles can also make a pregnant woman miscarry or give birth prematurely.

What about polio?  It has been decades since a case of polio has been reported in the U.S. In fact, that disease has been completely eliminated worldwide. Right? Not so. Over the past several months, cases of polio have been reported in Somalia and Kenya.  This disease, which begins like many other other viral illnesses, infects the nervous system and may leave its victims paralyzed; some patients even die.

Considering a more tropical vacation? Cholera, a disease not seen in the U.S., is endemic in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Patients with this diarrheal disease may lose over a gallon of fluid a day.  Patients will die from dehydration if left untreated.

Dengue fever, also known as breakbone fever, is endemic throughout Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. This mosquito-transmitted viral infection results in fever, headache, muscle aches and rash.  Many patients experience excessive bleeding. Individuals unfortunate enough to have a second episode of dengue infection develop a severe disease with bleeding and often death.

Malaria, perhaps the most common mosquito-transmitted disease occurs not only in exotic destinations like Africa and India, but is found throughout South America, the Middle East and China.

If you are planning a trip abroad, you may want to take some precautions before you go:

  1. Several months before you are scheduled to leave, take a look at the traveler's information site posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Not only is there a user friendly checklist for information that you can customize to your destination and family make up, but the travel health notices will provide you with up to date information about disease outbreaks worldwide. You can also look up advice for specific countries or find a listing of travel clinic resources in your area.

  2. Review your family's immunization status with you primary care physician and your child's primary care physician.  Make sure everyone is current.  Review with your healthcare provider your travel plans.  Depending on your destination, certain vaccines not routinely given in the U.S. may be required; yellow fever and cholera vaccinations are good examples.  You and your family may also need to take medication to prevent malaria.  Your primary care provider may choose to refer you to a specialist if your travel plans will take you to a particularly exotic locale.

  3. Don't forget to take sunblock (30-50 SPF) and insect repellent (at least 20 percent DEET); apply the sunscreen first.  Mosquito netting, insect repellent for clothes and other protection may be required for certain areas.

  4. Don't drink the water! While this may sound trite, the safety of drinking water in many parts of the world is not guaranteed.  Consider bottled water (make sure the seals are intact), or beverages made with boiled water. Keep in mind that foods that are served raw, such as salads, are often prepared with local water and may transmit disease.  You may eat cooked food or foods with rinds that may be peeled prior to eating (citrus fruits, for example).

  5. Finally, if you do feel ill during your trip or upon your return, see a healthcare professional promptly.  A febrile illness following a trip to Southeast Asia may be the flu or a simple viral infection; it could also be typhoid fever, a bacterial infection with significant consequences if left untreated.

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