Many Canadians travel abroad to visit friends and relatives in countries where they may have visited before or even lived, but they're still at risk for illnesses. Pre-travel advice from a health professional trained in travel medicine can help reduce your risk.
Here is what our pharmacists say you should know about staying well while travelling to familiar places.
Why is a travel consult important?
It may be surprising to learn that travelling to visit friends and relatives is higher-risk travel compared to travelling for other reasons. Studies have shown more serious preventable diseases occur in this type of traveler.
This is because travel to visit friends and relatives often takes people to countries where there are different diseases and ranges of medical care than we see in Canada. Risks can also be higher because travellers stay with locals and find it difficult to adhere to travel recommendations in this setting.
I used to live there. Aren’t I still immune to malaria or other travel-related illness?
Immunity can decline with time. Now that you live in Canada, your immune status is generally considered the same as any other Canadian resident. In addition, patterns of travel-related illness are constantly changing—both in geographical location and response to medical treatment. Recommendations you've heard in the past may drastically differ from current travel health recommendations.
If you're confident that you're immune to a specific vaccine-preventable illness, you might be able to request that bloodwork be done to confirm immunity. This is usually only possible if your departure date is at least six weeks away.
What if my family and friends tell me they have never been sick and I don’t need preventative measures?
Our bodies can become accustomed to or resistant to certain infectious diseases, and as long as you remain living in the affected area, your immunity should remain. This may be why your friends or relatives do not complain of diseases you heard about in your travel consult or use bed nets to protect themselves from mosquitoes carrying malaria, for example—they may be immune.
It can be challenging to go against your family or friends’ beliefs regarding things like the use of bed nets, medication and food choices like avoiding produce washed with tap water, for example. You don’t have to force your own preventative measures or medications on others, but you must take care of your own body so you can have an enjoyable trip and remain healthy after you return to Canada.
If I get sick while travelling, can’t I just get medical care at my destination?
This depends on your destination. Smaller centres are often not as stringently regulated as Canadian medical centres and the medical care you receive may not be safe and effective. It's best to adhere to pre-travel recommendations to reduce your likelihood of becoming sick while travelling. If you become seriously ill, you may require evacuation to another country for medical care.
Can I just see my family doctor for travel advice prior to my trip?
It's best to see a provider who has specialized training in travel medicine. Your family doctor may not have additional training in this field and could be unaware of the most recent travel-related recommendations.
Schedule a travel consult with your Otter Co-op pharmacist for the latest and best travel health information.