- Getting sick when you’re away from home can be scary.
- Take preventative measures before your trip to prepare yourself in the instance that you might catch a cold, get the stomach flu, or have an allergic reaction.
- If you need to go to the hospital, there are resources to help you find the right doctor.
- INSIDER spoke with Dr. Scott Weisenberg, MD to gather tips on what to do when you get sick abroad.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
It might feel like the end of the world when you’re sick – and that feeling is especially magnified when you’re away from home and not feeling well. Before your trip, it’s important to take preventative measures in the instance that you might get sick. That means talking to your doctor or stocking up on the appropriate medicines before you jump on the plane.
But sometimes the inevitable happens and you catch a cold cold, battle the stomach flu, or have an allergic reaction anyway. We spoke with Dr. Scott Weisenberg, MD who specialises in Infectious Disease and Immunology at NYU Langone to help us pinpoint what to do when you get sick abroad. Here’s what he suggests.
Take preventative measures before your trip
“The best strategy is to anticipate what common or serious health issues could occur during travel, and to come up with strategies in advance for what to do during a mild or acute illness,” Dr. Weisenberg told INSIDER.
Be prepared before you leave home by stocking up on current medications, cold and flu medicines, stomach medicines, wipes, ibuprofen, and a first aid kit with a thermometer. It’s also a good idea to pack a copy of your updated medical information, including shots, past surgeries, allergies, and blood type.
“The individual risks will depend on the destination, activities planned during travel, and baseline health status of the traveller,” said Dr. Weisneberg. “A pre-travel doctor’s visit will identify if a traveller is at risk for serious diseases, such as malaria, and come up with strategies to reduce the risk of travel-associated illness.”
Visit the CDC website to get a sense of possible health risks you might face in the destination you’re heading to. This will tell you if you need certain vaccinations (such as influenza, hepatitis A, typhoid, and yellow fever) or prophylactic medications before you enter another country. Consult your healthcare physician to let him or her know of your travel plans.
It’s important to have travel or medical insurance set up before your trip
Check whether your current health insurance plan covers you in the instance that you need medical assistance in a different country. If it does not, travel insurance is a smart investment.
Squaremouth.com is a travel insurance comparison site to help you navigate these confusing waters. Try to pick a travel insurance company that specifies in its policy that you can make a claim in the instance that you require special medical needs. The insurance company can also be a resource in helping you find a doctor overseas.
“For travellers who purchase travel medical health insurance (or if it’s available via their own health insurance), it may have networks of providers, as well as provide assistance in accessing appropriate care,” Dr. Weisenberg told INSIDER.
When should you decide it’s time to go to the hospital?
Obviously, there are different levels of getting sick overseas. It can be a cold from being in a different environment, stomach upset from eating unfamiliar food, or a bad reaction to an insect bite. However you’re feeling, you need to assess what your specific risks are.
“If someone is in a malaria-endemic region and has an unexplained fever, I would have a very low threshold to seek medical care to exclude malaria, as well as other causes of acute febrile illness such as typhoid,” explained Dr. Weisenberg. “Acute symptoms that are potentially life-threatening, such as chest pain or difficulty breathing, should always prompt immediate medical assessment.”
In the instance that you are less sick but still worried about your overall situation, contact your healthcare physician back home via patient messaging, email, or phone call. Dr. Weisenberg said you should clarify in advance whether your doctor could be a resource during travel, and what the typical response time to messages would be.
In a situation where you might need hospital care in a different country, there are resources to help you find a doctor that speaks your language
Dr. Weisenberg provided us with a list of resources in case you’re in a non-English speaking country and need to see a doctor.
- “For hospital care, there are hospitals around the world that have received accreditation from the Joint Commission International. If there is no local hospital listed on the JCI website, the best option is to call the local US Embassy and ask for recommended health care facilities.” Accreditation from the JCI means that the hospital passed its test for providing patients with the best level of care.
- “For outpatient issues, particularly related to travel medicine, the International Society of Travel Medicine maintains a database of practices around the world.” This resource allows you to search for the closest clinic in the country you’re in.
- “The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers is an organisation that provides English speaking doctors. Membership is required to access their services, with a suggested donation during registration.” IAMAT is an overall resource for finding solutions to your health questions overseas, no matter how big or small.
- If you speak another language besides English, you can also use resources like Tripmedic.
If you decide not to go to the hospital, but were able to find what you need at a pharmacy, give yourself a few days to recover
Most countries have pharmacies where you can talk to a pharmacist about what’s making you feel ill. They can help you find the right medication to get you back on track. Give yourself time to recover depending on your symptoms and what you’re taking treatment for.
“If a traveller has an acute febrile illness (such as a sudden fever) and is given medication for a disease such as typhoid or malaria, he or she should have a low threshold to return for additional assessment if they are not improving in the next day,” Dr. Weisenberg told INSIDER. “If it is diarrhoea and the person is otherwise well, you should wait five or six days to see if it goes away.”
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