About 1 in 30 people traveling abroad requires emergency care. Illness in a foreign country may involve significant difficulties. Many insurance plans, including Medicare, are not valid in foreign countries; overseas hospitals often require a substantial cash deposit for nonresidents, regardless of insurance. Travel insurance plans, including some that arrange for emergency evacuation, are available through commercial agents, travel agencies, and some major credit card companies. Directories listing English-speaking physicians in foreign countries, US consulates who may assist in obtaining emergency medical services, and information about foreign travel risks are available (see Table 2: Medical Aspects of Travel: Useful Contacts for People Traveling Abroad). Patients with serious disorders should consider pretravel contact or arrangements with an organization that offers medically supervised evacuation from foreign countries. Certain infections are common when traveling to certain areas.
Useful Contacts for People Traveling Abroad
International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers
US: (716) 754-4883 (Niagara Falls, NY)
Canada: (519) 836-0102 (Guelph, Ontario); (416) 652-0137 (Toronto, Ontario)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
US: Toll-free (877)-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747); (404) 639-3311 (Atlanta, GA)
CDC Malaria Hotline
US: (770) 488-7788; after hours, (770) 488-7100
US Department of State, Overseas Citizens Services
US: (888) 407-4747
World Health Organization (WHO)
International: (+41 22)-791-2111
Vaccinations: Some countries require specific vaccinations (see Table 3: Medical Aspects of Travel: Vaccines for International Travel*†). General travel and up-to-date immunization information and malaria chemoprophylaxis requirements are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) malaria hotline and web site (see also the CDC recommendations, Travelers’ Health: Vaccinations and Malaria and Travelers).
Vaccines for International Travel*†
Regions Where the Vaccine is Recommended
All developing countries
2 doses ≥ 6 mo apart; complete protection for 6–12 mo after the first dose and for life after the 2nd dose
All developing countries, particularly China
Recommended for extended-stay travelers and all health care workers
Year-round in the tropics
April through September in the Southern Hemisphere; October through April in the Northern Hemisphere
Recommended for adult travelers to these destinations
Also recommended for people traveling to any destination in large groups
Rural areas in most of Asia, particularly in areas with rice and pig farming
3 doses over 28 days
Not recommended for pregnant women
Northern sub-Saharan Africa from Mali to Ethiopia (the meningitis belt)
Required for entry into Saudi Arabia during Hajj or Umrah
Risk higher during the dry season (December through June)
All countries, including US
Recommended for travelers at risk of animal bites (eg, rural campers, veterinarians, field workers, people living in remote areas)
Does not eliminate need for additional vaccinations after animal bite for added protection
Recommended during pregnancy only if risk of infection is high
All developing countries, especially in South Asia (including India)
Pill form: 1 pill taken every other day for a total of 4 pills
Protects for 5 yr
Not safe for pregnant women
Single injection form: Protects for 2 yr
Tropical South America
Although this infection is rare, vaccination required for entry into many countries
Not safe for pregnant women
*In addition to the listed vaccinations, vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, polio, pneumococcal disease, and varicella should be up to date.
†All recommendations are subject to change. For the latest recommendations, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov).
Injury and death: Road traffic accidents are the most frequent cause of death of nonelderly international travelers. Travelers should use seat belts in vehicles and a helmet when cycling. Travelers should avoid motorcycles and mopeds and avoid riding on bus roofs or in open truck beds. To prevent drowning (another common cause of death while abroad), travelers should avoid beaches with turbulent surf and avoid swimming after drinking alcoholic beverages.
Traveler’s diarrhea: Traveler’s diarrhea (TD—see also Gastroenteritis: Traveler’s Diarrhea) is the most common health problem among international travelers. TD is usually self-limited, typically resolving in 5 days; however, 3 to 10% of travelers with TD may have symptoms lasting > 2 wk, and up to 3% of travelers have TD lasting > 30 days. TD lasting < 1 wk requires no testing. For persistent TD, laboratory testing is done (see Symptoms of GI Disorders: Testing).
Self-initiated treatment is indicated for moderate to severe symptoms (≥ 3 unformed stools over 8 h), especially if vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps, or blood in the stool are present. Treatment is with an appropriate antibiotic (eg, a fluoroquinolone for most destinations, a macrolide such as azithromycin
for Southeast Asia). Additional measures include
(except in patients with fever, bloody stools, or abdominal pain and in children <
2 yr); replacement of fluids; and, in the elderly and small children, electrolytes (eg, oral rehydration solution).
Measures that may decrease the risk of TD include
Drinking and brushing teeth with bottled, filtered, boiled, or chlorinated water
Eating freshly prepared foods only if they have been heated to steaming temperatures
Eating only fruits and vegetables that travelers peel or shell themselves
Avoiding food from street vendors
Washing hands frequently
Avoiding all foods likely to have been exposed to flies
Prophylactic antibiotics (eg, fluoroquinolones) are effective in preventing diarrhea, but because of concerns about adverse effects and development of resistance, they should probably be reserved for immunocompromised patients.
Schistosomiasis: Schistosomiasis is common and is caused by exposure to still water in Africa, Southeast Asia, China, and eastern South America. Schistosomiasis can be prevented by wearing footwear and socks when walking through water and by avoiding freshwater activities in areas where schistosomiasis is common (see Trematodes (Flukes): Schistosomiasis).
Problems after returning home: Persistent TD is the most common medical problem after travel. Malaria (see Extraintestinal Protozoa: Malaria), hepatitis A and B (see Hepatitis), typhoid fever (see Gram-Negative Bacilli: Typhoid Fever), sexually transmitted diseases (see Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)), including HIV infection (see Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)), amebiasis (see Intestinal Protozoa: Amebiasis), and meningitis (see Meningitis) are the most commonly acquired potentially serious diseases. People can also acquire lice (see Parasitic Skin Infections: Lice) and scabies (see Parasitic Skin Infections: Scabies) after being in crowded living conditions or places where hygienic measures are poor.
Some diseases become evident months after a traveler has returned home; a travel history with exposure risks is a useful diagnostic clue when patients present with a puzzling illness. The International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org) and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (www.astmh.org) have lists of travel clinics on their web sites. Many of these clinics specialize in assisting travelers who are ill after their return home.