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Published on August 15, 2016

Going overseas? Make sure your meds go with you

Going overseas? Make sure your meds go with you

Physicians and pharmacists at Cape Cod Healthcare often hear questions from patients who are planning overseas travel about what vaccines they should get before they leave.

That’s why Cape Cod Healthcare has, for the first time, established a travel clinic at Fontaine Outpatient Center in Harwich. Physicians and pharmacists there are trained to recommend and administer a spectrum of vaccines and medications.

“The travel clinic is a direct outgrowth of the Cape’s changing demographics, with many more retirees, business people and even second homeowners traveling frequently and widely,” explained Peter Scarafile, pharmacy director for Cape Cod Healthcare.

The key to travel and your health is advance planning, he said. ‘Sometimes, you will need a series of shots that must be spaced over 30 days. There are a lot of moving parts.”

Every Country Has Different Requirements

One couple came to the Fontaine Travel Clinic recently to ask about the immunizations they would need for a trip to South Africa.

The CCHC Travel Clinic follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The agency has a wide array of information on medicines and travel. For travel to that region, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend:

  • Be up to date for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, as well as diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.
  • Get vaccinated for Hepatitis A, which you can contract through contaminated food or water regardless of where you are eating or staying.
  • Get vaccinated for typhoid, especially if you are staying with friends or relatives, visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or if you are an adventurous eater.
  • Take anti-malarial medicine before, during and after the trip.
  • Consider a rabies vaccine because the disease is found in dogs, bats and other South African mammals.

“Every country has its own set of required and recommended vaccinations and medications,” said Scarafile.

“It can get pretty daunting,” he added.

How and why you are visiting a country can also determine what vaccines and medications you require.  Is it for business or pleasure?  Are you staying with family? Are you booked at a luxury resort or a tent in the bush?

“There actually can be a higher risk when you stay with your family abroad,” said Scarafile. “If you have lived in the United States for several years and return to your native country, you may have lost natural immunities. You may no longer be able to tolerate drinking water from the tap, for example.”

Travel Clinics Advise on the Drugs You’ll Need

Shelley West, manager of Cape Cod Healthcare’s Outpatient Pharmacy Medication Services, said the travel clinic’s physicians and pharmacists not only will provide vaccinations prior to a trip, but also counsel patients about all the medications they need once they arrive in a foreign country.

“Some countries may not have over-the-counter medicines you may need, or the quality of these medications may be suspect,” she said.

Some of the questions the clinicians at the travel clinics suggest you ask yourself before traveling abroad are:

  • Will you bring enough of your current medications with you?
  • How will you secure them? What if you lose them?
  • What if you are delayed returning home? Will you have enough or be able to refill a necessary prescription?

The Cape Cod Healthcare pharmacy at Fontaine can help you organize a medicine travel kit, which might include things like Tylenol, Motrin and anti-diarrhea medications, along with your current prescriptions, said West.

In addition, the clinic’s physicians and pharmacists will discuss safety steps – from how to handle food to mosquito protection to where to swim or not swim, said Angela Medeiros, who supervises Fontaine’s retail pharmacy.

Advice also can extend to how and when to take medications if you are crossing time zones.

“We want to send our patients away as safely as possible,” said Medeiros.

One of the challenges for those going abroad is knowing what vaccines they have had in the past, and whether they still are active, said Scarafile. For children, the records are mostly up to date, but for adults – especially older ones – this information may be more elusive.

In some cases, the travel clinic can do blood work to determine what level of antibodies you have in your system, explained West.

Travel consultations are currently available on the first Tuesday of the month on a walk-in basis. Call Urgent Care – Harwich at Fontaine Outpatient Center at 508-430-3330 for more information.