Studying abroad can be fun and fulfilling. To have an opportunity to gaze into another environment and culture can be exciting but on top of that, going to a new country regardless of the country’s sophistication, are many associated health risks. It is important that you are aware and adequately prepared from such risks. The health risks may range from infectious, injuries, allergies, outbreaks, and the not so common ones.
Before You Go: Learn about the country’s health and safety concerns including other countries you may like to visit while you are there. Visit https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.
Make an appointment with your travel medicine physician to get the needed vaccines and medications at least a month before you travel. CDC recommends all travellers be up to date on routine vaccines, such as influenza and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR). There are measles outbreaks in many popular destinations. Make sure you have received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine prior to travel. Don’t go unprotected! Discuss your itinerary with your health care provider to make sure you get any destination-specific vaccines and medicines, such as yellow fever vaccine or medicine to prevent malaria.
Get all your routine health check-ups, such as seeing your dentist, before you leave, because the quality of dental and medical care may be different in host countries or more expensive than in your native country.
Monitor travel and warning alerts at your destination(s) through the CDC website.
Prepare for the unexpected. Leave copies of your itinerary, contact information, credit cards, passport, and proof of school enrolment with someone at home, in case you lose them during travel. Find out if your health insurance covers medical care abroad—many plans don’t! Consider buying additional insurance that covers health care and emergency evacuation. Studying and long-term travel abroad may result in culture shock, loneliness, or stress.
Discuss coping mechanisms, plan for who to contact if issues arise while abroad and tell your health care provider and your study abroad program about any existing mental health issues.
During Your Trip: Follow security and safety guidelines. Follow all local laws and social customs (including standards of dress and cultural norms). Remember, while in your host country, you are subject to its laws. Be familiar with and follow your educational institution’s study abroad code of conduct.
Do not wear expensive clothing or jewelry, to avoid the risk of theft or loss. Don’t travel alone at night, travel with a companion if possible. Avoid dark alleys or other questionable areas. Carry a photocopy of your passport and entry stamp; leave the actual passport in a secure place, such as a safe at your accommodation.
Carry the contact information for the nearest consulate with you.
Always wear seat belts and choose safe transportation. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among healthy US citizens in foreign countries. Use marked taxis or ride-sharing vehicles. Be alert when crossing the street, especially in countries where people drive on the left. Avoid overcrowded, overweight, or top-heavy buses or vans.
Prevent insect bites. Using insect repellent can protect you from serious diseases spread by insects in many destinations, such as Zika, dengue, and malaria. Use an insect repellent with one of the following ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Apply sunscreen first, then insect repellent. Be sure to follow instructions on the label and reapply as directed.
Be careful when indulging in local cuisine. Eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot. Do not eat fresh vegetables or fruits unless you can peel them yourself. Drink only bottled, sealed beverages, and avoid ice—it was likely made with tap water.
Use condoms every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex to reduce your risks of sexually transmitted infections.
Don’t misuse alcohol or other drugs. Misuse may increase your risk of accidents or injuries, which have serious health consequences. It can also make you a target for crime.
Use a reputable travel guide or tour company if you plan on doing any adventure travel activities like reef diving, surfing, or zip-lining.
Seek health care immediately if you feel sick or get injured during your trip.
After You Come Home: If you are not feeling well after you come home, you may need to see a doctor. Some travel-related illnesses may not cause symptoms until after you get home. Be sure to tell your doctor about your travel, including where you went and what you did on your trip. This information will help your doctor consider infections that are rare or not found in your home country.
Adeniyi Bukola, Consultant Family Physician and Travel Medicine Physician
Q –Life Family Clinic