Now that worldwide travel has become so common, for business, pleasure and educational purposes, travel medicine is an expanding field. In order to accommodate individuals or groups planning to travel to exotic locations, many services, including immunizations and prescribed medications, are available to prevent or treat diseases that may be prevalent abroad, or even, in some cases, in particular regions of the United States. The risk to travelers is increased if they are visiting a destination where they will come into contact with pathogens they have never before encountered.
In certain parts of the world, particular viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites that are rare or unknown in this country are common, so it is important to consult with a physician prior to departure to ensure that safety precautions are explained and necessary prescriptions are obtained.
Because some immunizations take a certain length of time to become effective, it is wise to have a medical consult as far in advance of the trip as possible. It is essential that the doctor know which parts of the world will be explored in order to prepare the patient properly. In some cases, the CDC will recommend against any nonessential travel to areas where there are active outbreaks of severe disease.
Physicians advising travelers should be aware of their patients' medical histories, their destinations and whether they have:
- Have chronic medical conditions
- Have compromised immune systems
- Are pregnant
- Are planning to travel on a cruise ship
- Are traveling with children
- Will be administering health care at their destination
- Will be providing disaster relief at their destination
Because diarrhea is by far the most common ailment suffered by travelers, physicians will usually prescribe medications in advance to treat gastrointestinal symptoms, including anti-diarrheal medications and antibiotics. Patients who become ill after returning home should be medically evaluated by a doctor familiar with their recent excursion in case their disease condition was contracted abroad.
Most often, the diseases patients become infected with during travel are spread by bacteria or insect bites. Viruses may also be the cause of a travelers illness. In many cases, precautions other than medication, such as using mosquito netting, wearing masks or insect repellents, or purifying water at the destination, are also advised.