Avoiding Infectious Disease During Travel

There's plenty to do when planning an international trip, including booking flights, hotels, and ground transportation. But have you considered how you'll stay healthy? Avoiding infectious diseases is one of the most important things you can consider when planning an overseas trip.

Getting the necessary vaccines and making other preparations can help you avoid disease while traveling.

Learn more about how you can stay healthy during trips.

Top Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling

If you're thinking about international travel soon, make a plan to stay healthy.

1. Do your research. Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) travel website and look up the country to see what's recommended. This site is reliable, and both clinicians and laypeople can use it to determine their risk for certain diseases and illnesses.

2. Get vaccinated if the CDC recommends it. These diseases are preventable, and your PCP can give you most common travel vaccines. However, your doctor may send you to a travel clinic or give you a prescription if you need additional vaccines or prophylactic medications. When vaccines are recommended before a trip, make sure to get them several weeks in advance to allow time for your body to build immunity.

3. If there's any risk of malaria, take preventive steps. Ask your PCP about a prescription for antimalarial medication. And take other precautions, such as wearing the proper clothing and treating clothes and skin with bug spray. Malaria can be life-threatening.

4. Keep an updated list of vaccines you've already received. For example, if you get the two-dose hepatitis A vaccine, it's good for life. The yellow fever vaccine is a one-time dose that, for most casual travelers, will be sufficient for life. The typhoid vaccine is good for two years in the injectable form and five years in the oral form. Make a list of your vaccines and keep it with your passport. Keep your records up to date so you don't waste money or duplicate a vaccine you don't need. UPMC patients can find their vaccination records by logging into their patient portal account.

5. Prepare a package of the common over-the-counter (OTC) medications you use regularly. Take it with you in case you need it. Your package should include:

  • Acetaminophen.
  • An antihistamine.
  • Ibuprofen.
  • Something for diarrhea.
  • Something for stomach distress.
  • OTC sleep aid.

6. Ask yourself: How can I stay healthy on this trip? Then, make an appointment for three weeks to one month ahead of your trip with your PCP or, ideally, a travel medicine specialist. Get vaccines at least two weeks before your trip to build immunity and prevent a costly and disappointing quarantine situation.

7. Consider your COVID-19 risk tolerance. Because airplanes have good air filtration systems, they are fairly safe unless someone near you is sick. The place of highest risk is in the airport, standing in lines in close proximity to other passengers. If you are at low risk of severe illness, you should practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands or using hand sanitizer. If you are high-risk:

  • Don't eat on short flights.
  • Don't touch your face or eyes.
  • Get your COVID-19 booster — especially if you're seeing your family and getting together. Remember, it needs a few weeks to build immunity.
  • Practice good hand hygiene.
  • Wear a well-fitting N95 or KN95 mask in the airport.