Make sure you have the recommended vaccinations before traveling internationally

Required and recommended vaccinations vary depending on where you will be visiting, what you will be doing, your age and your own health history.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of U.S. citizens traveling abroad is continuing to increase. Reasons for travel may vary - among them are business, vacation, study abroad, visiting family and friends. Destinations such as developing countries and rural areas can present higher health risks as there may be limited sources of safe food and water, lower rates of immunizations among the local population and poor sanitary conditions.

The CDC provides destination-specific advice for travelers listing any current travel health notices for the country being visited, addressing required and recommended vaccinations, suggesting medications and first aid supplies to pack, and offering other helpful tips for making your journey abroad an enjoyable and healthy time. The CDC has a three-tiered system of travel health notices from level one, advising travelers exercise the usual health precautions while visiting a particular country, to level three which advises against all non-essential travel to that destination.

If you do travel abroad, take time before travelling to visit the CDC website. Learn how to plan ahead and protect yourself from illness during your trip. Check to see if your routine vaccines are up to date. You can print a chart that lists routine vaccinations are recommended for various age groups of adults. If you find your immunizations are not current, make an appointment with your health care provider several weeks before traveling to have those vaccines and any destination-specific vaccines administered. A number of factors including your age, overall health and medical history, type and location of travel being planned will influence which vaccinations are recommended for you.

Read over the CDC recommendations for what you should and should not eat or drink. They caution against eating food from street vendors, food served at room temperature, raw or soft-cooked (runny) eggs, raw or under-cooked (rare) meat or fish, unwashed or unpeeled fresh fruits and vegetables, and unpasteurized dairy products. What you drink is equally important. Preferred liquids include pasteurized milk, disinfected water, beverages that are bottled and sealed, hot coffee or tea. If you have ice in a drink, make sure it was made with bottled or disinfected water.

They also offer precautions to take when bathing and swimming. Avoid swallowing or inhaling any water through your nose or mouth. Even brushing teeth can be a concern if tap water is not safe. Use bottled water instead.

Another concern can be bug bites as mosquitoes, ticks and some flies can carry a number of diseases that vaccines are not able to prevent. The CDC offers tips on how to prevent and manage a variety of different bug bites. Depending on where you are traveling, some vaccinations may require administration by registered providers who will provide a stamped certificate, also known as a “yellow card”, that must be shown to gain entry into certain countries.

If you are going to be around animals, observe CDC guidelines for contact with both domestic pets and wildlife. Rabies and other diseases can be spread by bites and even scratches. Eating bushmeat, i.e., moneys, bats or other wild game meat is not recommended.

It probably goes without saying, but while traveling abroad, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand gel.

After you have safely returned home from your trip abroad, the CDC suggests you pay particular attention to your health and visit your physician if you are not feeling well. This is especially important if you visited a malaria-risk area. If prescribed an anti-malarial drug because of location of your trip abroad, make sure that you continue to take the recommended dosage for the number of post-travel days instructed. This can be anywhere from seven days to 4 weeks depending on which anti-malarial medication you were prescribed.

To learn more about food and health topics including safe food and water, good nutrition and physical activity, visit the Michigan State University Extension website. You can browse informational articles on a variety of topics, search for educational events being offered in your area, check out the online MSU Extension bookstore, get contact details for county Extension offices, search for a MSU Extension expert, or post a question for Extension experts from universities across the country.

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