Before You Go
If you're heading to exotic or developing destinations, your first stop should be the CDC website (cdc.gov/travel). Its user-friendly, searchable database offers country-specific advice on recommended or required vaccinations, along with information on prevalent illnesses and other potential hazards. The World Health Organization (who.int) also addresses health-related travel concerns on its site.
- Check with a medical professional
One visit with your regular doctor may be all you need. But for trips to less touristed countries, you may want to consult a travel-medicine specialist. "A travel doctor is more attuned to changing alerts," says Mary-Louise Scully, M.D., director of the Travel and Tropical Medicine Center at the Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif. "For example, Angola is having one of the biggest yellow fever outbreaks in 30 years. That wouldn't be on the radar of a typical doctor."
Specialists are up on the latest advances in medications, Scully adds. The antimalarial drug Lariam, for instance, can have such nasty side effects that some travelers would rather risk the disease than take the medication to prevent it. A newer drug, Malarone, has fewer side effects.
Make sure routine vaccinations are up to date. This includes your annual flu shot. And don't wait until right before you leave. The best time to see a doctor for shots is four to six weeks before traveling, because some vaccines require a series of inoculations. (Note that the yellow fever vaccine must be administered by a registered provider. See the CDC website for a directory.)
- Check with your insurance provider
Will you be covered abroad? In the specific countries you're visiting? If not, look into buying a supplemental policy. If you're bound for an area where quality health care is lacking, evacuation insurance coverage will pay the cost of transport for treatment elsewhere. Even if you have insurance, be aware that you may be required to pay medical costs up front in some foreign destinations.
Pack prescription medications in your carry-on bag. And take along any over-the-counter medications you're likely to need. The CDC recommends a veritable medicine chest of remedies in its Travel Health Kit checklist (wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/pack-smart#travelhealthkit).