Until recently I had never visited a travel clinic. But after going once, I’m a convert, and from now on will always go before I take far-flung trips.
After going to Thailand and meeting a handful of people with friends who had contracted malaria on their trips, I vowed to start making a visit to the travel clinic part of my pre-trip prep work before going to at-risk countries. So, when my next trip to Colombia came up, I decided to follow through on this promise. When I researched online and checked out the CDC website, I found mixed opinions on whether to get certain vaccines for certain locations. I knew what to do next: get a professional opinion on what exactly I needed for the areas I was headed.
I contacted my primary care doctor, who referred me back to the CDC website, and after explaining that I’d already done the initial research, they decided to schedule me for a yellow fever vaccine. However, the yellow fever vaccine at the time was on national backorder (which it usually is), and my primary care doctor would not have it in enough time to administer it before my trip. The wild-goose chase to find a yellow fever vaccine led me to the Harvard Vanguard Travel Medicine Department.
I made an appointment a little over a week before my trip. (Which is a big mistake, keep reading to see why). When I arrived, I met with a nurse who asked which areas I was traveling to and went over my immunization chart they had from my primary care office. Shortly after, the doctor came in and handed me a thick folder with information I didn’t even know I needed. She went over the Travax Traveler Health Report for Colombia, which included health concerns, requirements for entry (i.e. necessary visas, immunization requirements—some countries require proof of a yellow fever vaccine for reentry within a certain time period of entering their country if you’ve been to areas with yellow fever cases), recommended immunizations, travel advisories, general information (i.e. entry and exit fees, currency, unusual laws, driving laws, civil unrest warnings), embassy contact information, basic preventative measures, and finally a pre-travel checklist.
Access to Shoreland Travax reports are restricted to licensed professionals only, so you can only receive this information at a clinical visit.
We also went over a detailed map of the country with at-risk areas for yellow fever and malaria and determined I should take malaria pills and get the yellow fever vaccine since I was going to a national park. She also recommended I get the typhoid vaccine since mine was outdated and gave me a prescription for traveler’s diarrhea medicine since most areas in the country are at high risk.
She also helped me register in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) and verified my travel insurance coverage through work with GeoBlue. I also got a handy over-the-counter travel medicine/product list to keep for future travels.
Overall, I had a surprisingly pleasant experience and will make sure to visit the clinic before any travels to destinations where I am unsure of what health and safety precautions I should take.
Things to Consider Before You Go to a Travel Clinic
The CDC website is a good place to start; however, the amount of information can be overwhelming and sometimes vague or conflicting. If your primary care office has its own travel medicine department, call them first and see what they recommend. In some cases (like mine) you may end up needing additional vaccines or prescriptions, so having an appointment or consultation is best in person so the doctor can order everything you need at the time of your visit. If your primary care office does not have a travel medicine department, call around and find a clinic covered by insurance in your area, as consultations and vaccines can be pricey if not covered.
Keep in mind that some vaccines can take up to six weeks to be active, so you will need to make your visit well in advance (something I will make note of for my next trip). Also, some vaccines cannot be given at the same time, or need to be given in doses, so it’s extra important to give yourself plenty of time in advance for the necessary vaccinations.
What to Bring With You to a Travel Clinic
A copy of your itinerary or at least a list of places you are going to as well as an updated immunization list if you are visiting a clinic outside of your primary care office. Also make sure to notify the clinic of any allergies, especially to medications.
What to Expect at a Travel Clinic
My visit was short and sweet. I got all of the information (and more) that I needed. My two shots were administered at the time of my visit and I filled out a card to keep with my passport verifying I had the yellow fever immunization.
Can I Get a COVID-19 Test at a Travel Clinic?
The answer is: it depends. Certain locations, such as PassportHealth in the Boston area, are offering COVID testing but not every clinic will provide this service. You can filter your search on the International Society of Travel Medicine’s website for clinics that will perform and document the necessary COVID tests for travel or any other specific services you require. To make an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine before your next trip, you can use the Vaccine Finder tool linked from the CDC’s website to find a location near you.
Preparing for Your Trip
In addition to any prescriptions needed, this basic list for health and safety comes in handy for international travel:
- Antihistamines: Benadryl, Zyrtec, or Claritin
- Pain/Fever Relief: Asprin, Ibuprofen, or Tylenol
- Insect Repellent: 30 percent DEET spray, and permethrin clothing spray
- Anti-Diarrhea and Rehydration: Loperamide, Pepto Bismol, Pedialyte powder packets, Gatorade powder packets
- Probiotics: Culturelle
- Motion Sickness: Meclizine
- Other Supplies: Hydrocortisone cream, flight compression socks, digital thermometer, bed net for mosquitos
We also have a handy first-aid packing list that you can download, as well as nine over-the-counter medicines you should always pack.
After Your Trip
Make sure you take all of the recommended doses of your prescriptions, as oftentimes it’s necessary to take them for a few weeks after travel. Watch for any signs of diseases, as symptoms can have delayed onset.
Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ashley_stravel for more advice on travel hacks and destination ideas.
Editor’s note: This story was originally written in 2015, it has been updated with the latest information.
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