Travelling off the beaten track? See your pharmacist before you go!

When planning a trip to a more “exotic” location, it’s important to take extra precautions to ensure you remain healthy throughout your trip. That way, you can enjoy every moment of your vacation and focus on creating happy memories!

Begin planning for your trip at least six to eight weeks before departure, especially if you have to get vaccines for your trip. Many vaccines require two or three doses, with several weeks between doses.

Diseases that can be avoided through vaccination

Begin by making sure your basic immunizations are up to date, so that you are protected against hepatitis A and B, polio, measles and tetanus.

Next, visit the Canadian government’s travel.gc.ca website to find out which preventable diseases are active in the area you plan to visit. We may not be familiar with yellow fever, typhoid fever and Japanese encephalitis in Canada, but these diseases are common in other parts of the world and can be prevented with vaccines.

Some countries require a proof of immunization (e.g. against yellow fever) in order to allow visitors to enter their territory, regardless of whether there is a risk of contracting the disease in that country. Double-check, because without this document, you will be denied entry!

Many pharmacies offer vaccination services. Ask your pharmacist or visit familiprix.com to find a branch near you that offers this service. Some fees may apply.

Malaria

Malaria is caused by a parasite that is transmitted to humans through an insect bite. The disease is widespread in the tropical and subtropical countries of Asia, Africa, Central America and South America.

If you plan to travel to an area where the disease is present, it is recommended that you take the usual precautions to avoid insect bites, but also that you take preventive medication. The treatment must begin a few days before departure, and then continue throughout the trip as well as several days after you return home.

The choice of medication will be based on the antibiotic resistance of the parasites in your destination country. Your pharmacist can identify and prescribe the most appropriate treatment for your travel plans.

High altitude travel

When travelling to an area that is located at a much higher altitude than we are accustomed to, we may experience some discomfort, especially when going quickly from a low altitude to a high one (> 2,400 metres).

The lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes can cause headaches, nausea or vomiting, weakness, dizziness or vertigo. This is called acute mountain sickness (AMS).

AMS is most common in travellers who go mountain climbing without following the recommended rate of ascent. It can also occur on direct flights to a destination located at high altitudes.

Individuals who have suffered from AMS in the past are more likely to experience it again if they return to high altitude locations in the future.

If you plan to travel to a high altitude, your pharmacist can help you determine your risk of suffering from AMS and prescribe the appropriate treatment, if required.

Traveller’s diarrhea

Traveller’s diarrhea (the “turista”) is common when travelling to a country with sanitary conditions different from our own. It can be caused by different parasites, viruses or bacteria present in water or food.

In order to reduce your risk of getting ill, it is best to only drink purified water (boiled or treated with chlorine or iodine) or sealed, commercially bottled water, and to only eat foods that have been boiled, cooked or peeled. Depending on your destination, other measures may be recommended. Your pharmacist can help you get fully prepared.

If you plan to travel to a country with a high risk of traveller’s diarrhea, it may be wise to bring medication that you can take if you get sick. Your pharmacist can prescribe the appropriate medicine for your destination, and explain how to recognize the early symptoms of the disease, so that you can start the treatment as early as possible.

There is also a vaccine that reduces the risk of contracting traveller’s diarrhea caused by a specific bacterium called enterotoxigenic E. coli. However, the vaccine does not protect against the many other causes of the “turista”.

First-aid kit

You should always pack a first-aid kit when travelling, but it’s even more important when travelling off the beaten path, because there may be little or no access to medical care or supplies.

You can create your own kit or purchase a ready-made commercial kit that you can complete based on your needs, for example by adding special bandages, analgesics, and medication against nausea or allergies.

Your pharmacist can help you make a list of essential items that will take into account your state of health, your activities and the climate at your destination.

Don’t forget to bring insect repellent if you must travel to a country where there are diseases transmitted through insect bites. For most of these diseases, there are no vaccines or preventive treatments. This is the case with dengue fever, leishmaniasis and West Nile virus, but also with the Zika virus, which has been increasingly present in Central and South America for the past few years.

Pregnant women and couples who wish to conceive should avoid any travel to areas where the Zika virus is found, because it can cause severe brain malformations in the baby.

No matter where you plan to travel, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your pharmacist, who can identify your needs and help you prepare for your trip.

REF: travel.gc.ca

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