Traveling on long trips can present you with challenges to your health as well as your current health plan coverage. Here are some things you need to do to prepare yourself medically for your next trip.
Get any recommended vaccinations.
Be advised that some vaccinations require more than one shot, received several weeks or even months apart, and that the vaccine may not be effective for several weeks after the first shot, so you need to get your vaccinations scheduled well in advance of your trip.
Purchase any other recommended prescription medications
Purchase other medications recommended for diseases which may be prevalent in the country you are visiting, such as anti-Malaria drugs, etc. Discuss with your doctor about bringing a broad-spectrum antibiotic with you, especially one for intestinal bacteria, which you can self-prescribe if you get hit by something really nasty on your trip. Some doctors are OK with prescribing these…some less so.
Stock up on your normal prescription medications
If you are going for a long time you may need to provide justification to your health insurance provider for the large prescription amounts you are requesting. Even doing this, some insurance providers might not allow you to receive prescriptions for as long as you need for your full trip. Our health plan provider, for example, would only allow us to get three months plus one addtional vacation extension month worth of prescriptions for our upcoming six month trip. You can try to plan ahead to build a couple months stockpile of prescriptions using whatever flexibility your plan allows you and maybe stretch your prescription limits further. Other than that you will have to figure out how to get prescriptions filled in your destination country, or have prescriptions sent to you.
Stock up on any non-prescription medications and other health-related items
These include items such as sunscreen, mosquito repellent, etc. There is a list of common items you might want to take in your travel health kit in this post
Take care of any medical problems that are currently bothering you
Don’t wait to get to the tropics to have that annoying boil lanced or corn removed.
The CDC has very good health travel information at this website where you can select the countries you are visiting and it will give you details about the vaccinations required, other recommended precautions (such as anti-malaria drugs), and other health concerns. I visited the site to check on the requirements for our upcoming trip to Guatemala. I was particularly curious about malaria danger, and found that malaria is a problem in Guatemala, but not at elevations above 1500m, such as Antigua, Guatemala City, and Lake Atitlan. Since our time will be spent primarily in those areas, our risk of getting Malaria is very small and there is no need for us to take an anti-Malaria regimen. The other recommendations are for Hepatitus A and Typhoid vaccinations. Both diseases are spread by contaminated food and water. Among other information I found on the site is that the typhoid vaccine is only 50-80% effective, so you still need to be careful about what you eat and drink. You need at least 2 weeks after the injection for the protection to kick in. A booster is required every 2 years. The Hepatitis A vaccine is listed as “highly effective” (I’ve seen the number 95% kicked around) in preventing Hepatitis A viral infection. The vaccine consists of 2 shots which should be taken about six months apart (good to know). The first shot gives protection starting 2 to 4 weeks after the injection. The second injection results in long-term protection, lasting for at least 25 years.
Anyway, the CDC site is great. Go there to figure out what vaccinations and other drugs you need. Anti-malarial drugs, in particular, can be quite tricky because different strains of malaria in different parts of the world have become resistant to various antimalarial drugs, so you need to make sure you are taking the right drug for the area you are traveling in.
Health Insurance Coverage for Vaccinations
Many health plans do not cover vaccinations beyond those that you normally get during childhood, for school admission, and a few other common diseases. They usually cover, Hepatitis A and B, HPV, Flu shots, Measles-Mumps-Rubella, Polio, Meningococcal, Pneumococcal, Tetanus-Diptheria-Pertussis, Varicella (Chicken Pox). Check with your provider to see what they cover and, if they don’t cover the vaccinations, shop around for traveler’s clinics which may have the vaccinations for cheaper prices than what your normal medical clinic may charge.
What about diseases that don’t have vaccines?
There are many diseases that have no vaccines. These include a number of mosquito-borne diseases, diseases from contaminated food and water sources (usually bacterial or parasitic), or diseases transmitted by blood or sexual contact with another person, not to mention diseases transmitted like the common cold or flu. Some of the diseases without vaccines include: Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis), Chikungunya, Dengue, Cytomegalovirus, HIV/AIDS, Hookworm infection, Leishmaniasis, Malaria, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Schistosomiasis, Zika, West Nile Virus. Malaria is “sort-of” covered with drugs that prevent the Plasmodium parasite from setting up shop in your body, but most of the rest you need to try to prevent with good sanitation, watching what you eat and drink, practicing safe sex, mosquito avoidance measures, etc.
For more information on protecting yourself against various diseases while traveling, look at this post.