By: John Gobbels
Missing out on a unique cultural experience because you’re stuck in bed with a travel-related illness or injury is probably not part of your plan for a great study-abroad experience. Fortunately the CDC has put together a “study guide” to help you prepare for safe and healthy travel.
Visit the CDC Travelers’ Health website to learn about the health risks at your destination. Make an appointment with a doctor familiar with travel medicine, ideally at least 4–6 weeks before you leave. The doctor will review your medical history to make sure you get the right vaccinations, medicines, and information on safety. You should be up to date on all routine vaccinations (such as influenza, measles/mumps/rubella, and polio), and you may need other travel-related vaccines. If your study-abroad program lasts several months, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve gotten all your routine health check-ups, like seeing your dentist, because the quality of dental and medical care may be different in host countries or more expensive than in the United States.
Before you leave, register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency. Visit Doctors/Hospitals Abroad to identify health care resources in the country where you will be living. Learn basic first aid and pack a travel health kit so you can treat any minor ailments yourself. If you take a medicine regularly, make sure you have enough for the length of your trip.
You’ll also want to make sure that you have travel health insurance and your Medjet card in case you become hospitalized during your study-abroad program and need to get back to your home hospital, family and physicians.
The Center for Global Education is another excellent resource that can help you prepare for your study-abroad program.
Protect Your Health Abroad
Wash your hands with soap and clean water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner before you eat, after you cough or sneeze, and after you use the bathroom. In developing countries, be careful about the food and water in suspicious regions and be sure to eat fully cooked food that is served hot or fruits and vegetables you can wash or peel yourself. Drink only bottled, sealed water or water that has been boiled, and avoid ice.
In tropical and subtropical countries, diseases spread by insects may be common. Use an appropriate insect repellant and wear long pants and sleeves to protect yourself from bug bites. To prevent infections such as HIV and hepatitis B, which are spread by blood and bodily fluids, don’t get tattoos or body piercings.
After You Come Home
After you return from your trip abroad, get medical attention right away if you aren’t feeling well or have been injured. It is especially important to see a doctor if you have a fever, rash, cough, difficulty breathing, or any other unusual symptoms. If you are returning from an area where malaria is a risk and become sick with a fever or flu-like illness for up to 1 year after you return, see a doctor immediately, and tell him or her that you have traveled to a place where malaria is present.