Ask Your Pharmacist

February 13, 2019
Q:

My wife and I are soon travelling to a resort in Mexico for the first time. Are there any vaccines I should get? What do you recommend for travel needs?

A:

Good for you guys! Travelling can be a rewarding experience. Taking the right precautions will help you avoid any health-related issues that could complicate your trip or, worst case scenario result in you contracting an illness that will affect your health beyond your vacation. My recommendations vary depending on where you are travelling, the activities you will be doing, and your own personal health status. In New Brunswick, pharmacists are taking on a much bigger role in both travel health and routine vaccines.

Most New Brunswick pharmacists have basic travel health training and, if needed, can prescribe and administer vaccines or medication for preventable travel illnesses like hepatitis A and B, typhoid, travellers’ diarrhea and more. Travellers don’t want to contract any diseases that are in the area where they are travelling, and they don’t want to catch travellers’ diarrhea (cholera, E. coli) from contaminated food. Anyone travelling abroad should visit their local pharmacist to talk about precautions, but for those with health risks (pregnancy, compromised immune system, etc.) or those travelling to remote or higher-risk locations, I recommend they consult with a pharmacist, or another healthcare professional, with specialized training in travel health at a travel medicine clinic. For example, this year I’ll be travelling to Peru to explore ancient Inca ruins and hike along the Andes mountain range. Not only will I need to consider preventable diseases for this particular area but I will also have to be prepared for the elements: insects, altitude changes, new foods, differences in hygiene, and a higher risk for injury. Prior to my trip, I will consult a pharmacist in my area who has specialized travel health training. Your local pharmacist can help you decide if visiting a travel health center is recommended for you.

There are some general tips I can offer to the average traveller. Make sure your routine vaccines are up to date (tetanus for example) as well as your annual flu shot. Start to seek health care advice at least six weeks before travelling as some vaccines are time sensitive. Check whether your destination has any special vaccine requirements, such as required, proof-of-vaccination to ensure certain diseases aren’t brought into the country. The Government of Canada website is a great resource for this information and can be found online at travel.gc.ca. Other great websites to check out include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.gov) or the World Health Organization.  

Diarrhea is common when travelling as we often eat food, spices, or beverages that we aren’t used to. For this, I usually recommend taking Pepto-Bismol, Imodium, and Gravol with you to help relieve these symptoms (given there are no contraindications to these drugs). Along with diarrhea comes the risk of dehydration so I recommend taking powders you can mix in water to help replenish lost salts. They have saved my day more than once down south. Travellers’ diarrhea refers to diarrhea caused by bacteria and is usually more severe and more debilitating. If you experience this with blood or mucus in your stool, seek a health care provider. Don’t forget sun and alcohol also play a role in dehydration so drink lots of fluids and make sure to apply sunscreen regularly and cover up when in the sun for long periods.

Like most things in life, there is no 100 per cent guarantee you won’t get sick while travelling but with the right approach, your chances of illness can be significantly reduced. Prevention is important and although it may require out-of-pocket expenses, keep in mind that the trip itself is expensive and so is medical treatment in a foreign country. Be prepared so you can have fun in the sun!

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist in Saint John. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.