Safe Travels: Advice for Traveling Healthy While Abroad

Safe Travels:  Advice for Traveling Healthy While Abroad

Physicians who provide travel medicine services at Marshall Family Medicine are routinely consulted by patients for pre-travel advice and, when needed, post-travel care for a broad range of individual and itinerary-based health and safety concerns. Here, is a broad overview of some of that advice.

Where you’re going

For those planning a one- or two-week vacation in the countries of Western Europe, Japan, Australia or New Zealand, the short answer for a healthy and happy holiday is simple—take twice the amount of money you think you will need and half the amount of clothes! These nations have public health and personal safety standards on par with the United States and Canada.

For patients who plan to visit popular tourist destinations in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean, standards of sanitation, even in glitzy and expensive resorts, may on occasion be a bit lax. This could result in water and/or foodborne gastrointestinal misadventures.

More often than one might suppose, however, we regularly counsel individuals from all walks of life who are traveling to remote, resource-poor regions of third-world nations for short-term disaster relief volunteer work, long-term job commitments in coal and petroleum extractive industries, faith-based mission assignments and academic research. It is in these areas where there may be a high risk for insect transmitted parasitic diseases or even rare exotic diseases for which there is currently no vaccine or effective drug therapy. Such itineraries may also involve a heightened risk of personal safety resulting from an unstable political climate.

Before you go

Travelers who are in good health and plan to visit low-risk destinations should review high quality health and personal safety resources online such as and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website is an excellent, regularly updated resource for areas where Zika is present worldwide and recommendations to avoid contracting this illness. The basic advice is to prevent bites from infected Aedes mosquitoes by using approved insect repellants such as 20 to 30% DEET on the skin or treating clothing and gear with the insecticide, Permethrin.

For those traveling to low-risk areas, talking with a physician trained in travel medicine could help ease any concerns you might have and simply make you feel more comfortable. However, we highly recommend consulting a travel medicine physician before traveling to regions of medium- or high-risk. This is particularly true for travelers who have complex itineraries or special health needs including those with chronic health conditions and those who are on medication, very young, very old or pregnant.

The physician will perform a pre-travel health-risk assessment for the planned trip and give recommendations regarding vaccine-preventable illness, strategies for preventing diarrheal illness, avoidance of insect bites and resources for access to medical care during travel.

In regions of the world where evacuation may be advisable for serious life-threatening illness or injury, your physician may recommend travel insurance. Most travelers don’t know that the cost of international medical evacuation by air ambulance can easily run $50,000 or more. Insurance to cover evacuation expenses can be purchased from long-established, reputable firms for $150 and up.

To schedule an appointment with one of our travel medicine physicians, call Marshall Family Medicine at 304-691-1100.


John B. Walden, MD, DTMH

Dr. Walden is a board-certified physician and professor and retired chair of the Department of Family & Community Health at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. He has more than 45 years of experience in global health, travel medicine and tropical medicine.