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Travel Medicine

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Why should travelers see a physician before they leave on a trip?

Travelers should see a physician before leaving for a trip if

  • they are going to developing countries,
  • they are visiting sites that are not on the usual tourist routes or traveling to high altitudes,
  • they have chronic diseases that could be affected by travel,
  • they are visiting countries that require vaccinations before they allow travelers to enter the country.

The goal of a pre-travel medical evaluation is to help travelers protect themselves against (1) common diseases that may be mild but that will disrupt their trip, and (2) less common diseases that may be serious or even fatal. All travelers need to be up to date on routine vaccines they would normally get if they were not traveling. For example, an annual influenza vaccination (flu shot) is recommended if traveling during influenza season. Travelers should also be up to date on tetanus vaccines. If a tetanus booster is needed, your physician may elect to use the Tdap vaccine that also provides continuing protect against adult pertussis. No vaccinations are required for re-entry into the United States after travel.

What diseases occur in travelers, and how can disease be prevented?

Travelers can pick up infections from contaminated food or water, from insect bites, animal bites, or from other people. Vaccinations, medications, and simple precautions can reduce or eliminate the risk of many of these travel-related infections. While infections are the most common problem for travelers, it is important to remember that the most common cause of death in travelers is motor vehicle accidents. Be sure to look both ways before crossing the street (especially in the United Kingdom, where oncoming traffic comes from the right), don't get in the car if the driver is drunk, and use seat belts if available both at home and when traveling.

This review will cover diseases commonly encountered by travelers or those for which vaccinations are recommended. For a more complete discussion, please refer to the CDC travel medicine web site (

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2014

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