The Medical Minute: Add immunizations to international travel plans

December 03, 2013

People who travel within the United States are accustomed to things like packing and reservations. International travelers, however, have a longer pre-travel to-do list because they have to consider immunizations.

The Penn State Hershey Travel Clinic, offered by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology, offers inoculation services to people who travel internationally. Clinic staff can help to verify which immunizations are needed based on the traveler’s destination, and help determine whether his or her vaccinations are up-to-date.

“Often people aren't aware that they need to be concerned with illnesses that we don't have here in the United States,” said Patsi Albright, a nurse practitioner at the travel clinic.

For example, Albright reminds people that while salmonella and typhoid are not prevalent in the United States, they are common in other countries. Additionally, which vaccinations are required by law varies from country to country – and these requirements often change.

The travel clinic has access to the most current information on specific destinations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.

Albright offers some advice to consider when planning a trip:

Get your immunizations up-to-date.

Talk with your primary care provider (PCP) to check if you are up-to-date with routine immunizations before you visit the travel clinic. Insurance companies do not generally pay for shots required for travel but will cover them for hepatitis A, tetanus and other standard inoculations.

Albright also said most inoculations take two weeks to take effect and suggests getting those four to six weeks prior to travel.

Consider your route.

When venturing abroad, travelers need to consider not only their final destination, but also any layovers along the way. Albright said even if you never leave the plane or airport, stopping in some countries requires certain vaccinations.

Watch what you eat.

Albright recommends avoiding food from street vendors, a common source of illness. Also, do not accept opened bottled water as it may be filled with tap water. Traveler’s diarrhea is quite common and mostly caused by bacteria. Albright often prescribes antibiotics for clients to take with them in case they develop severe diarrhea.

Take what you need.

Travelers should take all regular medications and prescriptions with them, and keep medications in the original packaging.

Carry a brief medical history that includes those medication and any known health concerns. This is especially important for people with chronic health concerns. Diabetics may also need documentation stating they need to carry needles and syringes to administer insulin.

The CDC’s Traveler’s Health page allows users to enter their destination country and get information about recommended vaccines, current travel notices, healthy packing tips and more.

The World Health Organization’s travel page offers detailed information about traveler vaccinations, a page about food safety when traveling and an interactive world map showing areas of high risk for certain infectious diseases at

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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Last Updated December 17, 2013