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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Survival guide for Healthy International Travel from the CDC

Every year more and more Americans are traveling internationally, not only for vacation, but also for business, visiting family, and volunteering.

Recently, LTD reviewed the US Department of State Smart Traveler App for your safety and security.  But what about your health when you travel?  Travel health concerns can be as simple as knowing what to eat and not to eat, up to needing to know what to anticipate for your particular health issues.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Travelers' Health website offers destination specific vaccine and travel health recommendations, travel notices, help with finding a travel medicine provider and other resources for your upcoming vacation.

LTD has reviewed this website thoroughly and highly recommends it as a resource.  The information inculded on the website and the CDC apps will help you plan for a safe and healthy trip.  Security information for your trips is provided by the Department of State Smart Traveler App, but don't forget about your health when you travel!

LTD has written a primer on travel insurance which you should review to make sure you find the right coverage and pay the least amount of money, but don't we all want to avoid getting sick in the first place?  Don't let this happen to you...

The "Travelers Health" pages of the CDC website allow you to build a trip and get destination-specific recommendations, a checklist of what you need to do to prepare for your travel and customize a healthy travel packing list.

Features at the CDC Traveler's Health Website. 

There are two options initially, for the traveler or the clinician.  If you have specific needs don't hesitate to look up information for yourself as the traveler, but print a copy of the clinician results to bring to your medical provider prior to travel.   The clinician information can be reached via the Traveler's health home page or once you have entered your specific travel information.

Each country has similar recommendation sections when entered, but the expandable information under each section may be different.  LTD will list the sections with an example and we may not expand upon every section below.  Mexico is the most common country that Americans travel to.  Let's try an entry for Mexico and see where it leads us:

a.  Vaccinations that may be required for ALL, MOST OR SOME TRAVELERS.  These include routine vaccinations that most will already have: "Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot."  But if you have specific needs such as visiting smaller cities or rural areas, adventure travel other recommendations such as rabies vaccinations may be recommended.

b. Zika Virus warning and information is given since this is an area known to have the Zika Virus.

c.  Eat and drink safely - this section gives excellent information on the water safety of your destination.  Of course, traveler's diarrhea is common for Americans traveling to Mexico, and this website gives excellent information about water and food safety.  LTD compared this section to a country such as the United Kingdom, where Americans do not need to take special precautions with food or water.

Here is the Mexico food and water safety CDC recommendations for Mexico:

"Unclean food and water can cause travelers' diarrhea and other diseases. Reduce your risk by sticking to safe food and water habits.


Food that is cooked and served hot
Hard-cooked eggs
Fruits and vegetables you have washed in clean water or peeled yourself
Pasteurized dairy products

Don't Eat

Food served at room temperature
Food from street vendors
Raw or soft-cooked (runny) eggs
Raw or undercooked (rare) meat or fish
Unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables
Unpasteurized dairy products
”Bushmeat” (monkeys, bats, or other wild game)


Bottled water that is sealed
Water that has been disinfected
Ice made with bottled or disinfected water
Carbonated drinks
Hot coffee or tea
Pasteurized milk

Don’t Drink

Tap or well water
Ice made with tap or well water
Drinks made with tap or well water (such as reconstituted juice)
Unpasteurized milk

Take Medicine

Talk with your doctor about taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs with you on your trip in case you get sick.

Eating raw dairy products and vegetables in Mexico can put you at risk for serious infections."

d. Prevent bug bites

e. Stay safe outdoors

f. Keep away from animals

g. Reduce your exposure to germs

h. Avoid sharing body fluids

i. Know how to get medical care while traveling

This is an extremely important section.  If you have not read LTD entry about Medical Crisis in Mexico, it is a good example of why you should check this section before you travel.  The CDC has excellent recommendations.  Here is the CDC advice for Mexico:

"Plan for how you will get health care during your trip, should the need arise:

Carry a list of local doctors and hospitals at your destination.

Review your health insurance plan to determine what medical services it would cover during your trip. Consider purchasing travel health and medical evacuation insurance.

Carry a card that identifies, in the local language, your blood type, chronic conditions or serious allergies, and the generic names of any medications you take.

Some prescription drugs may be illegal in other countries. Call Mexico’s embassy to verify that all of your prescription(s) are legal to bring with you.

Bring all the medicines (including over-the-counter medicines) you think you might need during your trip, including extra in case of travel delays. Ask your doctor to help you get prescriptions filled early if you need to.

Many foreign hospitals and clinics are accredited by the Joint Commission International. A list of accredited facilities is available at their website (

In some countries, medicine (prescription and over-the-counter) may be substandard or counterfeit. Bring the medicines you will need from the United States to avoid having to buy them at your destination.

Malaria is a risk in some parts of Mexico. If you are going to a risk area, fill your malaria prescription before you leave, and take enough with you for the entire length of your trip. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking the pills; some need to be started before you leave."

j. Select safe transportation

k. Maintain personal security

Before we move on to the CDC safe traveler app, LTD will reiterate the importance of the Clinician view of the destination specific recommendations.  We will continue with our Mexico example.  At the page Health Information for Travelers to Mexico Traveler View which we have detailed above, there is a place to click for Clinician View.  This will take you to information your provider can look at before you go to assess that you have the proper vaccinations and medications.  But just as important is that this provides excellent information for a clinician to use while you are traveling, AND if you are ill after you return from your trip.  While a provider can find this information himself or herself, don't you think it would be best to have it readily available?

The CDC has two apps that are available to travelers.   Each has features that are available offline if you will not have an international data plan or wifi available.

CDC TravWell App

CDC’s TravWell app helps you plan for safe and healthy international travel. Build a trip to get destination-specific vaccine recommendations, a checklist of what you need to do to prepare for travel, and a customizable healthy travel packing list. The app also lets you store travel and health documents, keep a record of your medications and immunizations, and set reminders to get vaccine booster doses or take medicines while you’re traveling.  You can link to download this app by clicking here.

Build a trip to get destination-specific vaccine recommendations, a checklist of what you need
to do to prepare for travel, and a customizable healthy travel packing list.

Key Features

  • Authoritative recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • During-travel features available offline (no data connection needed)
  • Fully customizable to do list and packing list
  • Emergency services phone numbers for every destination

CDC Can I Eat This? App

Montezuma’s revenge, Delhi belly, or travelers’ diarrhea—whatever you call it, it can ruin your international trip. Help prevent travelers’ diarrhea by using CDC’s Can I Eat This? app. Select the country you’re in and answer a few simple questions about what you’re thinking about eating or drinking, and Can I Eat This? will tell you whether it’s likely to be safe. With Can I Eat This?, you can be more confident that your food and drink choices won’t make you spend your international trip in the bathroom. You can link to download this app by clicking here.

Help prevent travelers’ diarrhea by using CDC’s Can I Eat This? App

Key Features

  • Authoritative recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Access recommendations offline (no data connection needed)
Always plan ahead when traveling for safe and healthy travel.  Things don't always go as planned but if you stay informed, you have the best chance of having the most awesome vacation ever!  The information provided by the CDC and other US agencies, such as the US Department of State should be used every time you travel internationally.

Organize your medications before you go for more time to see everything wonderful at your destinations!

Remember, if you have questions related to your health, always consult your doctor or medical professional. The information presented here is informative only and is not medical advice.

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