Definition and Overview

A pre-travel checkup is a medical examination that is performed when an individual is about to leave for a trip. While this is only an additional precaution for most, there are some cases wherein it is a requirement. Some examples of individuals who should undergo a physical checkup prior to traveling are pregnant women, patients suffering from chronic medical illness, or individuals traveling to countries where there are reported health risks. The checkup is expected to help protect these individuals from contracting a disease while in their destination country.

During the checkup, a physician will assess the patient’s health to determine whether he or she is fit to travel, provide advice on the health risks in the destination country, and provide immunizations if necessary.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Anyone can seek a pre-travel checkup before a trip as a precautionary measure, but for some people, it is a requirement. These include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Pediatric patients, especially infants and toddlers
  • Patients suffering from chronic medical illnesses, such as:
  1. Heart disease
  2. Stroke
  3. Diabetes
  4. Cancer
  5. Asthma
  6. Autoimmune disease
  • Patients who have existing allergies
  • Patients who recently underwent surgery
  • Patients who usually experience travel-related symptoms, such as:
  1. Jet lag
  2. Severe motion sickness
  3. Traveler’s diarrhea
  • Individuals traveling to countries where there are country-specific health risks


Some countries also warrant a physical checkup prior to the trip regardless of how healthy the individual is. These countries are highlighted on an international health risk map that physicians are knowledgeable of, and are categorized into their level of risk.

  • High-risk countries are those where there is a high risk of food or waterborne infections, where serious infectious diseases are reported, and where health care is scarce or non-existent.
  • Medium-risk countries are those where there is a risk of infectious diseases and medical capabilities are limited.
  • Low-risk countries are those that meet the international standard of care and where there is a low risk of infectious diseases.


At the end of the check-up, the patients should be:

  • Given a physical examination to determine the patient’s general health condition
  • Assured that they are in good health to travel and engage in activities that are included in their itinerary
  • Made aware of the risks they may face and how to protect themselves, such as washing the hands properly and eating in clean places
  • Given appropriate medications that may come in handy in treating some symptoms they may experience while on the trip, e.g. antihistamines for individuals with allergies and anti-vertigo medicines for those who commonly experience motion sickness
  • Should be given the necessary vaccines or immunizations, if these are available

How the Procedure Works?

A pre-travel checkup is usually initiated by the patient, who is responsible for informing his or her primary healthcare provider about any upcoming travel plans. The checkup typically occurs at the doctor’s clinic, where the physician can also perform a standard physical examination. It may take around an hour.

The checkup begins with the exchange of information regarding the patient’s travel plans. Providing complete information about the trip will allow the doctor to perform an accurate checkup and provide correct medical advice.

The patient should inform the physician about:

  • Country of destination
  • Reason for traveling
  • Trip schedule and duration
  • Trip itinerary, including any activities they expect to engage in, especially if they are extreme or strenuous
  • Travel arrangements, such as whether it is an independent trip or a group tour
  • Expected accommodation type
  • Transportation


Once all pertinent information has been provided, the patient will undergo the standard physical exam. The doctor will then make the necessary prescriptions for medications and immunizations. If necessary, the patient may also request for a certificate that states that he or she is fit to travel, as this may be a requirement for some airline companies especially if the patient has a reported medical condition.

Possible Risks and Complications

There are many health risks that can affect an individual during a trip. This is because long trips tend to expose the body to unusual conditions, such as:

  • Long flights
  • Cramped conditions
  • Increased air pressure
  • Less fluid consumption
  • Increased activity levels


Not only are these conditions a risk to the patient’s long-term health, but there are also additional and more complex risks involved in becoming ill abroad, such as the lack of readily available medical care and the absence of the patient’s primary physician.

There are also specific health risks in certain countries, such as infections and diseases that are transmitted via food, water, air, skin contact, and other means. Some examples of these diseases are:

  • Malaria
  • Cholera
  • Hepatitis A
  • Dengue
  • Amoebiasis
  • Yellow fever
  • MERS virus (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Typhoid fever
  • Tickborne encephalitis


These diseases may have serious consequences, and some also progress rapidly and may even lead to fatal results. Thus, it is best to be protected from these diseases as well as the other risks of traveling.


References:

  • Arguin P. Approach to the patient before and after travel. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 294.

  • Basnyat B, Ericsson CD. Travel medicine. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2011:chap 84.

  • Fairley JK, John CC. Health advice for children traveling internationally. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, et al, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 168.

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