Definition and Overview

Travel medicine, also known as emporiatrics, is a field of medicine that involves health management and the prevention of health issues that patients traveling internationally might encounter. There is a high risk of disease and other medical issues involved in traveling to different parts of the world, as the individual is exposed to different people, conditions, and environments. There are identified disease hotspots in the world, including tropical climates and other parts of the developing world, and travelers who will go to such destinations should be amply prepared.

There are different areas in the field of travel medicine, with many of them dealing with preparing the traveler before he goes to the destination where disease is a high risk. Prescribing and delivering vaccines or other preventive medication play a big part in pre-travel medicine, as prevention plays a big part in ensuring the traveler’s health. The human immune system is often unprepared for new diseases it might encounter during international travel, which is why it is highly important to undergo preventive measures to minimize risk and ensure the traveler’s health, welfare, and safety.

With over 80 million people traveling to different parts of the world every year, disease and health issues remain a major concern. Aside from the traveler encountering diseases and infectious agents that his or her immune system is not prepared for and suffering the symptoms in a foreign country, the traveler can also bring infectious disease to his home country. This latter risk poses a serious threat particularly to densely populated areas, since such diseases—including the recent outbreaks of SARS, swine flu, and other such epidemics—can infect thousands of individuals in a matter of days or weeks. Traveler’s diarrhea is a common affliction experienced by international travelers, regardless of their destination. This condition involves diarrhea, stomach cramps, bloating, and nausea, and is usually caused by bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. Some cases are mild and usually go away after a couple of days or after the traveler takes diarrhea medication; on the other hand, there are cases so severe that the affliction poses a serious threat to the traveler’s life.

One of the common diseases encountered by travelers to tropical climates and developing nations is malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that causes high fevers, seizures, coma, or even death. As of the moment, there is no vaccine for malaria. Travelers who might be at risk of being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes will be provided with a medical orientation prior to their departure to their destinations.

In the event that the traveler contracts a disease while traveling internationally, professionals trained in the field of travel medicine are also equipped to help them manage symptoms and treat the disease.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Travelers who will go to an identified disease hotspot, including destinations in the tropical region and the developing world, should visit a travel medicine specialist before he or she departs. This is to provide the individual with vaccines or with advice that will help prevent disease. Travelers returning to their home countries who observe symptoms should also come in for a check-up or a consultation to determine if they have contracted the disease during travel. People with pre-existing medical issues and diseases should also come in for a consultation. Research shows that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death during travel, which makes it highly important for people with heart conditions to check with their primary care doctors for precautions to take before, during, and after travel. Injuries and accidents also rank high among the leading causes of travel deaths.

Pregnant women, needless to say, are also highly encouraged to visit their OB-GYN before and after traveling, to ensure their good health, as well as the child they are carrying within them. Specific travel activities such as attending mass gatherings or pilgrimage events, diving, traveling on a cruise ship, exploring remote areas, or embarking on wilderness expeditions will also require travel medicine to ensure that nothing untoward, health-wise, will happen to the traveler.

Expected results of a travel medicine consultation are minimizing the risk of disease and other medical issues, providing the traveler with knowledge on how to deal with potential encounters with diseases and infectious agents, and determine the cause or source of symptoms observed after returning from international travel.

How is the Procedure Performed?

The field of travel medicine is also very broad, with practitioners specializing in infectious diseases, public health and epidemiology, high-altitude physiology, travel obstetrics, tropical medicine, occupational medicine, migration and military medicine, environmental health, and even psychiatry.

There are many clinics providing this service to travelers, but it is best to get in touch with a clinic or health establishment that is certified by or has updated information from the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization. Monitoring disease outbreaks and keeping track of possible preventive measures and treatment options are vital parts of travel medicine.

The World Health Organization also recommends that pre-travel consultation should take place “at least four to eight weeks before the journey and preferably earlier if long-term travel or overseas work is envisaged.” However, it is also important to note that even people who will be going on a last-minute trip should not dismiss going in for travel medicine consultation. A last-minute traveler can go in for a consultation as late as the day of departure itself.

Aside from assessing the current state of the patient’s health, the travel medicine specialist will also provide information about health risks or potentially life-threatening situations the traveler might encounter in his or her destination. The doctor will also determine the need for vaccines and other types of preventive medication. The traveler will also be provided with a list of medication and other medical supplies he or she might need for the trip.

Information on travel health insurance should also be discussed with a doctor or a qualified medical professional before the trip.

Possible Risks and Complications

Other than minor side effects caused by vaccines or pre-travel medication, travel medicine consultations are very safe and can potentially make the difference between life and death during travel.

References:

  • Centers for Disease Control
  • World Health Organization
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