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Travelers' Diseases

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Prevention and Treatment

Advance planning can help prevent many travelers' diseases. Prior to a trip, people should consult with their doctor to discuss their travel plans and to verify that they have been vaccinated as needed and if any boosters are needed to maintain a protective level of antibodies. Since many vaccines take time to become effective or may require more than one dose, it is advised to consult with a doctor 4 to 6 weeks before departure. Many medical centers affiliated with academic universities have a Travelers' Clinic where those preparing to go abroad can obtain expert advice.

Vaccines that may be needed include:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Measles, mump, and rubella
  • Meningococcal meningitis
  • Pneumococcal
  • Polio
  • Rabies
  • Tetanus and diphtheria
  • Typhoid fever
  • Varicella (chickenpox)
  • Yellow fever

For information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on vaccinations for travelers, visit their Travelers' Health web page.

If someone is traveling to areas where malaria is prevalent, the doctor will usually recommend chemoprophylaxis, such as mefloquine or chloroquine, to begin taking prior to departure. These medications will need to be taken regularly during the trip and for a specified time period after the traveler's return. Some doctors may give their patients antimicrobial agents to take with them along with instructions on how and when they should be taken if symptoms appear during their trip.

Both the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have current information on travelers' diseases and strategies for prevention (see Related Pages).

In spite of taking every precaution, travelers may still become ill, either during their trip or several months after they have returned home. In general, the earlier travelers' diseases are detected and diagnosed, the easier they are to treat. Treatment will depend on the particular disease. Travelers should know which symptoms signal the need to seek prompt medical care in the country they are visiting and which may be safely self-medicated. For several months after their return home, they should note any symptoms that occur and bring them to their doctor's attention.

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