Monday, September 21, 2009

One Day at the Travel Clinic

Solo tourist

Cholera, plague, typhoid, typhus, river blindness, rotavirus, norovirus, hantavirus, head lice, hemorrhagic fever, yellow fever, chikungunya fever, dengue fever, diphtheria, and dysentery. This was just a sampling of the ailments I could encounter on an upcoming four-month trip around the world. According to the experts, I wasn't supposed to eat the food, drink the water, or kiss the women. Walking barefoot and swimming in fresh water were definitely out. Still, there was one thing I dreaded more than any ghastly Third-World disease: the pre-trip visit to a vaccine clinic. 
Eight weeks before my departure date, I found myself in the waiting room of a Boston clinic. While the patients around me chirped excitedly about their upcoming trips, I focused on my breathing. Deep full inhalation, long slow exhalation.

Finally, a woman in a unisex lab coat called my name and hustled me into her office.
"So, where are we off to?" she asked. 
"Venezuela, Greece, South Africa, Thailand, Australia, Vietnam, and possibly Burma, Cambodia or Laos," I said.
"How exciting. Must be nice to get so much time off."
"Actually I just lost my job."
"Oh," she said, recoiling as if I had already contracted some communicable disease.
She struck a few keys on her computer and announced with glee that I'd need seven shots. Better yet, I couldn't get them all in one visit, or even two. I'd have to come back three times.
Next, she printed maps highlighting the malarial zones for seven countries on my itinerary. On several maps, she noted which drugs to take in case I contracted an exotic case of the runs. In Cambodia and Vietnam I'd take Ciprofloxacin. In Thailand, it would be Azithromycin. By the time the woman finished with me, I was afraid to leave my apartment, never mind the country.
Visiting a travel clinic will likely not be the most enjoyable part of your trip, but it's still a necessity.
- To find a clinic near you. 
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel health info
- World Health Organization travel health info.

- List of 58 scary diseases you can contract while traveling
- Tips and common sense for avoiding food poisoning.
- Customs officials in foreign countries use tougher health questionnaires.
- Twelve tips for healthier travel.