08 Aug Safe Travels: Why Visiting a Travel Clinic is the Smart Thing to Do

Travel medicine clinics are a valuable yet often underutilized area of medicine.  International travel is a wonderful and fascinating endeavor, and may feature a weekend getaway to Mexico, mission work in Tanzania, studying abroad in China, or anywhere in between.  Regardless of where your plans take you and for how long, however, it is always wise to consider the potential medical issues related to your trip.  Travel medicine clinics (travel clinics) are a great tool to help you get the most out of your travels in a safe, proactive, and health conscious way.

One focus of your visit will be prescription medications recommended for your travel.  Depending on the destination, these medications can vary.  Perhaps the most common is an antibiotic that can be taken in case of travelers diarrhea (also known as Montezuma’s Revenge), a frequent ailment for international travelers.  Typical choices would include a Fluoroquinolone for an adult or a Macrolide for a pediatric patient.  Another category would be anti-malarial medication, taken prior to, during, and following travel to a malaria risk zone.  Options include Atovaquone/Proguanil, taken every day and generally well tolerated, or Mefloquine, taken only once per week but with a higher rate of bothersome side effects.  Acetazolamide is a third type of medication used by travel clinics.  Its benefit is to help reduce the risk of Acute Mountain Sickness, generally recommended for those traveling to altitudes >10,000 feet.

A second feature of travel clinics is providing immunization services.  These are designed to lower the risk of acquiring infectious diseases while away from home.  Perhaps most importantly, most travel clinics recommend receiving any needed vaccines at least 4-6 weeks prior to travel, in order to optimize their effectiveness.  While some contraindications to vaccines may exist, such as autoimmune disease or chemotherapy, most vaccines are very safe, effective, and available to the majority of travelers.  Some of the most frequently needed travel vaccines include Hepatitis A, Japanese Encephalitis Virus, Meningococcus, Rabies, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever.

Finally, most travel clinics will provide education relevant to your particular destination.  Modifying your diet to reduce your risk of diarrhea is a smart precaution for some destinations, including peeling fruits and vegetables, avoiding drinking water unless boiled or bottled, avoiding ice, and avoiding foods on buffets that have been sitting out.  Taking a daily probiotic such as Lactobacillus has been shown to reduce the risk of diarrhea as well.  Avoidance of mosquito bites and the various maladies they potentiate may be emphasis too.  Wearing mosquito repellant such as DEET, wearing long sleeves and pants, and even sleeping in mosquito nets may be warranted to reduce risk of mosquito-borne illnesses.  While some are addressed with medications or vaccines, others such as Zika, Dengue Fever, and Chikungunya can only be prevented by preventing the mosquito bites themselves.  Finally, safety measures such as bringing any regular prescription medication including asthma inhalers and injectable epinephrines, bringing photocopies of your passport in case of theft, and checking the US Department of State for any travel warnings are important as well.

Ultimately, international travel is a fantastic way to explore new places and experience new cultures.  Seeing a physician familiar with travel and medicine prior to travel is an important pre-travel item to check off your list, to ensure your travels are as safe and healthy as possible.


Dr. Levin has been a pediatrician with Elm Street Pediatrics in Winnetka since 2007.  He resides in Glencoe with his wife Laura and 2 daughters, Hallie and Lucy.  His interest in travel medicine was sparked in 2006 when he spent 4 weeks working at Bugando Hospital in Mwanza, Tanzania, and led to him starting the Elm Street Pediatrics Travel Clinic in 2010.
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