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Travel Medicine Physician’s Tips for Traveling Safely This Summer

This Should Be Your Next Step After Booking a Trip, According to a Travel Medicine Physician

Last summer, as more and more people announced their travel plans on social media, the term “revenge travel” quickly gained traction. Today, industry experts use it to describe the sharp increase, over the last year or so, in people booking trips to make up for time and experiences lost to the pandemic—even as precautions against COVID-19 persist.

This spike is expected to continue this spring and summer, according to many forecasts. The travel search engine Kayak reported in December that flight searches in 2022 for “travel in 2023” were up 46 percent compared to searches in 2021 for “travel in 2022.”

Patient checking in

Locally, appointments with Chester County Hospital’s Travel Medicine program were up 129 percent in February from the same period in 2022, according to Thomas Gavin, Director of Corporate and Community Initiatives for the hospital. Penn Medicine additionally offers travel medicine consultations in locations in Philadelphia, Penn Medicine Radnor, Lancaster General Health and Princeton Health.

Travel medicine experts can be a helpful guide in an uncertain time. With patience worn thin by years of pandemic travel restrictions, there’s concern among health care professionals that this surge in travel is unfolding with little regard for how easily infections can be transmitted and just how widely health conditions can vary, not only between countries but also regions within the same country.

Beyond ensuring a traveler is adequately vaccinated, a Travel Medicine consultation provides guidance on negotiating such matters in a way that’s tailored to the traveler’s itinerary.

“An informed traveler is always going to be a safer traveler because they know what they need to do to maintain that safety,” says Margaret Stroz, MD, the lead physician of Chester County Hospital’s Travel Medicine program.

Doing Your Homework for Safe Travel

Stroz has been providing Travel Medicine consultations at Chester County Hospital for the last 20 years. Today, she does them at each of the hospital’s two Occupational Health Centers, in West Chester and Exton, with the support of Candace Mazzio, MSN, CRNP, and Chad Jeffery, PA-C.

She takes her guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization, and International Society of Travel Medicine.

Stroz provides vaccine recommendations and advice on how travelers can best protect themselves. Recommendations are based on a traveler’s itinerary, immunization record, and medical history, with guidance on preparing for threats such as unsanitary drinking water and mosquito bites that infect people with disease, to escalating outbreaks. She can also offer preventive medications for a range of travel-related conditions. Malaria and yellow fever, she says, are her primary concern. Stroz will also address traveler’s diarrhea, altitude sickness, and motion sickness, as well as less common diseases like leptospirosis.

Stroz will also discuss the continued potential impact of COVID-19 on travel. For example, public health officials recommend avoiding crowded public spaces, which would include airplanes, if you test positive just before or during your trip.

Preparing for a Travel Medicine Consultation

Most consultations will include a vaccination of some sort. For that reason, Gavin and Stroz urge travelers to schedule their consultation at least two weeks in advance of their trip, although two to three months is ideal.

While it’s true that countries that require certain vaccinations for entry will provide them at the airport if a traveler does not have a record of having received them, they likely won’t offer much, if any, protection during the trip because vaccines generally require at least two weeks to be effective.

When scheduling a consultation with a travel medicine physician, travelers are generally asked to provide information about their itinerary, such as this form for Chester County Hospital Travel Medicine patients. And travelers should be prepared to discuss their medical history.

Special Considerations for Parents

Traveling with a child, whether a baby or a teen, comes with its own set of unique considerations, Stroz says. An infant on the standard vaccination schedule, for example, may be vulnerable to measles, mumps, and rubella, when traveling abroad. “In that case, I’ll review their immunization record and work together with their pediatrician with recommendations for additional immunizations prior to the trip,” Stroz says.

Because toddlers will wander at the first opportunity and approach an animal that’s equal to them in size or smaller, Stroz says she commonly discusses the threat of rabies with parents of young children and how they can encourage their children to alter their behavior in ways that will afford them better protection from the likes of a stray dog.

Teens and young adults are exposed to all the same natural elements that can pose a risk to their parents, but their own risky behavior, including unprotected sexual activity, can add another layer of danger.

It’s impossible to protect against all of it, of course. But by bringing it up during the consultation, Stroz is making parents and teens more aware of the risks. And often, simply being more conscious of behavioral tendencies is enough to cause a subtle, if temporary, shift.

Special Considerations for Immunocompromised People

For immunocompromised travelers, Stroz recommends scheduling a Travel Medicine consultation even further in advance than three months. Some medications may prevent her from administering the necessary vaccines, in which case, a traveler’s specialists would need to be consulted. Some may recommend temporarily discontinuing or changing the medications to allow for the vaccinations.

Even if new, destination-dependent vaccines aren’t needed, boosters for routine vaccinations may be in order, she says.

“Basically, the more time we have before your trip, the better we’ll be able to account for any changes to your treatment plan and ensure that you’re fully immunized,” Stroz says.

For trips scheduled to places that pose unusually high health and safety risks, Stroz strives to have thorough and frank discussions with travelers about their itinerary. This is especially important for immunocompromised patients due to the unfortunate reality, made clear during the pandemic, that they are at greater risk of more severe disease, and complete protection from that risk may not be possible.

Ready to Fly

After a consultation with Stroz, travelers receive an official immunization record to keep with their travel documents, along with a customized health and travel information packet. Each packet includes the health risks and requirements for the specific countries on their itinerary, consular information, and general travel health advice.

Altogether, the clearest takeaway for those seeking to satisfy their “revenge travel” needs? Time, planning and scheduling that initial consultation.

“Many of my travelers have done their homework beforehand and have an idea of what they need,” Stroz says. “But most are surprised there was more insight to be gained from our consultation.”

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This blog is written and produced by Penn Medicine’s Department of Communications. Subscribe to our mailing list to receive an e-mail notification when new content goes live!

Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of personal medical advice.

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