By Jean Bristol
We’re in the midst of another busy travel season here in New England. Starting with the holidays in December, through the cold depths of winter, and right on into spring break, we see more patients in the BMH Travel Clinic now than at any other time of year.
But the urge to escape the snow isn’t the only reason people are planning trips at this time of year. A lot of companies in this community send workers abroad for business reasons. Printers maintain relationships in India, machine shops send people to China and makers of natural supplements visit Costa Rica. There are also a surprising number of people who work on oil rigs and freight ships in the Brattleboro area, which takes them to any number of offshore destinations.
Then there are the service-learning trips and mission work organized by churches, schools and various nonprofits. These groups are often going to parts of the globe with impoverished living conditions, putting themselves at risk for illnesses that have long since been eradicated in our hemisphere. And it is these groups which are largely responsible for the existence of travel medicine as an area of specialty in health care.
Travel medicine is only about 25 years old. The first Conference of International Travel Medicine was held in 1988 with some 500 professionals gathering in Atlanta. The International Society of Travel Medicine was founded from that conference a few years later. Today, it has more than 3,000 members spread across 80 countries. The ISTM formalized its professional development program in 2011 and now offers a certificate of knowledge that is good for ten years.
When people think about travel medicine they usually imagine getting vaccinations for things like hepatitis A, and typhoid. It’s true that this is a large component. With both influenza and whooping cough at epidemic levels in our community right now, we would recommend immunization to prevent spreading of these diseases. If someone travels abroad frequently, once the initial vaccines and boosters are up to date they may only need antimalarial medications or perhaps nothing at all to travel.
When Brattleboro Memorial Hospital established its travel clinic, on the heels of World Learning closing its travel clinic, BMH took the necessary steps to be a certified provider of the yellow fever vaccine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has very strict guidelines for establishments that administer the yellow fever vaccine, because it requires refrigerated storage and has a very short shelf life. For many of the destinations to which people in our community are going, immunization against yellow fever is a requirement.
But travel health professionals set up their clinics to do more than give shots. They are one stop shop resources that give people traveling overseas the necessary information to manage their health and get medical care in the event of an emergency. They have access to the latest advisories for individual countries (did you know Greece is experiencing its first malaria scare in 40 years?) and can help prepare people for everything from food preparation to animal bites and malaria prevention to cultural customs.
Two important items that everyone leaves the BMH Travel Clinic with — and other clinics as well, I’m sure — are contact information for the U.S. embassy in the country to which they are traveling, and a World Health Organization card documenting the individual’s vaccination history. Both can literally be lifelines if someone has a health emergency while they’re out of the country. Preparation is key to enjoying a trip, as every experienced traveler knows. Make sure you know what it takes to stay healthy before you go abroad.
Jean Bristol is a registered nurse with 20 years of experience in travel medicine. She is a member of the International Society of Travel Medicine and the American Travel Health Nurses Association. She can be reached at the BMH Travel Clinic weekdays from 7:00am to 4:00pm by calling 802-257-8235.