Plan ahead for healthy travels abroad

Getting sick at home is bad enough, but dealing with illness or injury while travelling can be traumatic. It’s even worse if you’re in a country where you are not familiar with the medical system or language.

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, a non-profit organization, lists recommended doctors and clinics abroad that include more than 350 cities in 90 countries. They are English-speaking doctors who have been vetted for their compliance with international health and ethical standards.

They can refer you to specialists if necessary, help navigate the local health system and report to your doctor at home. The clinics also agree to a maximum fee schedule.

Assuming that you have out-of-country health insurance, you can usually be reimbursed for medical fees, so it’s important to ask the clinic for the proper paperwork when you pay.

You can also consult the Canadian embassy or consulate to see if they have a list of recommended medical facilities. In case of emergencies, including serious illness or injury, you can also call the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.

Phone numbers and links as well as other travel health advice are available in the government publication, Well on Your Way – A Canadian’s Guide to Healthy Travel Abroad (

An important part of advance preparation is getting immunizations and prescriptions. There are few shots that you absolutely need as a legal requirement for travel but yellow fever is a notable exception.

If you have been through a country where the disease exists, some other countries won’t let you in without an nternational certificate of vaccination showing that you had a yellow fever shot.

The certificate is valid for 10 years, although the World Health Organization has determined that a yellow fever shot is good for life. Many countries now accept a certificate regardless of date issued but this isn’t universal.

Various vaccinations or precautions may be recommended. Though not legally required, take these seriously. Travelling to a malaria zone without the proper malaria medicine is simply asking for trouble.

For more information, consult the IAMAT website or Canadian Government Travel Advisories (

Vaccinations against Hepatitis A and B should also be considered.

Zika, a mosquito-borne virus linked to birth defects, is a current concern because Brazil is a Zika hotbed and is hosting this year’s Olympics.

Opinions vary widely on the implications for travellers but a travel health notice issued by the Canadian government is unequivocal: “Pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should avoid travel to the Olympics.”

Health risks are part of travel. For diseases that have been around for awhile, there are often internationally recognized protocols on prevention or inoculations. But when something relatively new emerges, the full implications aren’t immediately obvious.

In most cases, it comes down to a personal decision as to where to travel and what health precautions to take. It’s always best to stay informed and base decisions on credible sources of information.

At the Travel Media Association of Canada awards this spring, the Karpans won first place and outstanding achievement for best action photo of the year for photos in their May 16, 2015, and Aug. 27, 2015, columns.

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