In my 6 years of traveling overseas with the kids, I never really thought about making a special appointment with our doctor or pediatrician specifically for our journey. Since, most of our traveling was within Europe or North America, and our kids had received the vaccinations that were on the normal schedule for inhabitants of those countries, I never worried too much about infectious diseases. But now we are taking our first trip to Asia and I wanted to be prepared after hearing for several years about different diseases that were more unique to that part of the world. Our general practitioner that we had in the US before we moved to Germany just so happened to also specialize in travel medicine, so we knew that a travel medicine specialty was a think some doctors had. Naturally, we called upon the same doctor as we prepare for our upcoming trip to Japan since we knew him and he had also prepared my husband for his potential job travel to Asia and Africa. Here are a few things we learned about working with a travel doctor and the benefits it provides while preparing for international travel with kids.
1. First off, what is a travel doctor and how do you find one? A travel doctor is simply an M.D. who took on some extra training/education in infectious diseases or world health. They stay abreast on different diseases around the world and the prevention of such. They also offer vaccinations beyond the normal ones prevalent to the area where you live. You can start with a simple Google search in your are for a travel doctor, or check with your county’s public health office. For example, King County, where I live has a Public Health Travel Clinic. Many cities have specific “Travel Clinics” where doctors and nurses have pooled together under this specialty. Other private practice doctor’s may have just chosen this as an additional specialty (like ours) and will post somewhere on their page that they also specialize in “Travel Medicine” or “Infectious Disease.”
2.If you have never seen a travel doctor before, be sure to send all medical records for yourself and your children to the doctor well in advance of your appointment. This will be important for children. While a travel doctor will also know which vaccinations are suitable for children at certain ages, you can find out which vaccines are recommended in advance and then discuss them with your child’s pediatrician too for your specific child in case you have specific concerns regarding your child’s health.
3. A travel doctor will usually have more vaccinations for different countries than a normal doctor, but be sure to tell them when you make the appointment which countries you will be traveling to and how many people you think will need the vaccination so they can be sure to have everything you need at your appointment.
4.Let your kids see you get your shots first if they will also need to get shots as well. Make sure you tell the nurse beforehand that it is important to do it in this order. My husband and I were both at the appointment and in an effort to conserve time, the doctor and I went in another room to finish going over my additional medical history with one kid while my husband stayed in the other room to get the kids started on their one shot. The nurse chose our middle child, who still remembered getting his 5 year kindergarten shots just a couple months prior, to go first and he was terrified. He didn’t realize he was getting just one and it would have been helpful for him to have seen mom and dad be brave with theirs.
5. At the end of our appointment, our doctor went over some of the other minor illnesses related to our destination, including the common traveler’s diarrhea and some ways to prevent and treat. He also discussed several other general health concerns and prevention for travel.
6. Our travel doctor also asked us if we wanted him to give us a prescription for an antibiotic to fight a bacterial “traveler’s diarrhea” should we contract it. There is a prescription you can get in powder form that does not need to be refrigerated until you mix it with water and since it is just a powder, you don’t have to worry about a liquid spilling in your luggage. Plus, if you don’t need it on your vacation, you can save it for future use within its expiration date.
7. We also received a prescription for water purifying tablets (iodine) just in case there was some kind of natural disaster and we became unsure of the water source.
8. Our doctor brought up other points regarding insects and the spread of disease and had a list of different types of repellents, including some non-toxic more natural based ones that would help keep away some of the more common disease carrying ones like mosquitos and ticks. Of course, if you are sticking to just the city on your trip, it’s not much of an issue.
9. Before your appointment, be sure to check with your insurance to see what coverage you have regarding adult vaccinations and general appointments. For ours, everything was covered on our plan because our appointment was considered preventative. We only had a co-pay for the antibiotics that we got for all 5 of us.
10. Finally, be sure to check on the Department of State’s website (for U.S. citizens, or your country’s State Department’s website for non-U.S. residents) to see if there are any countries where you must show documentation of specific vaccines. You will want to obtain these records to take with you on your trip.
In all, our appointment took about an hour and a half for all 5 of us and we left with a great piece of mind for our health on our upcoming trip to Japan!