An Ounce of Prevention [Costco Connection magazine]
by Hope Katz Gibbs
The Costco Connection, May / June 1999
Summer Recreation, page 29
YOUR CAREFULLY PLANNED TRIP OVERSEAS could be ruined by a mosquito. Yellow fever is just one of the nasty souvenirs the tiny insect could give you to remember it by, not to mention the serious infections you could pick up from food, water, surfaces, animals and people you meet.
Before you pack your suitcase and update your passport for a trip to a developing country on business or pleasure, schedule a visit to your local travel clinic for required international immunizations. They may be your only defense against the most common international diseases, such as yellow fever, DTP, hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever, rabies and meningitis.
Without proper vaccines, experts say, travelers will likely be quarantined and forced to get the shots at the border. More often than not, border guards administer vaccines themselves, frequently not using disposable syringes. Improper sanitation dramatically raises the risk of contracting AIDS, hepatitis B, and other blood-borne diseases. The smart thing to do is to get your shots before you leave the country.
Although it is possible to get required vaccines from most physicians, often they don’t have the more rare vaccines or educational materials on hand. To fill the gap, clinics that’ specialize in providing international vaccines and travel advice have popped up across
Canada and the U.S. Of course, a dose of prevention doesn’t come cheap.
At Dr. Issa Ephtimios’ CRE RMT Healthy Travel Centre in Scarborough, Ontario, an initial visit runs about $40. Immunizations range from $25 for yellow fever and typhoid to $50 for hepatitis A. Most travelers need two to three shots prior to departure, so the cost for an average visit is likely to be $150, says Ephtimios, a Costco member. Although some travelers may balk at the fee, the Canadian price tag may actually be a bargain. Similar vaccines and office visits in the States can run upward of US$300.
To keep from feeling a financial pinch, Ephtimios suggests, travelers should check with their health-care provider, which may provide coverage. He also suggests travelers do their homework to ensure they are getting the most for their time and money.
“Talk to other travelers, travel agents and your family physician to see which travel clinics they recommend,” Ephtimios says. “You want to find someone you trust and. most important, you want to work with an experienced physician who has a background in travel medicine and tropical disease, and is a specialist in infectious disease.”
Ephtimios has all of those qualifications. He did extensive postgraduate work in infectious diseases at the University of Iowa in the U.S. and at McMaster University in Ontario. A native of Egypt, he also offers one other quality he considers critical.
“Find a physician who has traveled himself,” he says. “You want to get your shots from someone who has gotten the shots and knows the best travel advice to offer. Only with all of these elements will you be well prepared.”
SIDEBAR: Shot in the Arm
• Look for a travel clinic that has been in business for a few years and has a high volume of patients. Don’t be afraid to ask for references. The Health Protection Branch of the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control website lists travel clinics by province at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/main/lcdc/web/travel/.
• Vaccines are important, but statistics show a traveler is more likely to fall off a moped than contract yellow fever. Be sure your travel clinic helps you bone up on first aid.
• For a detailed list of shots you might need, log onto the Canadian Society for International Health, www.csih.org/. Other useful websites include: the Centers fro Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.org; the World Health Organization, www.who.org; and the International Society of Travel Medicine, www.istm.org.
Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer and Costco member living in Alexandria, Virginia. She regularly writes The Washington Post, USAToday and other publications.