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Health precautions to consider when traveling

By Michelle Baran
updated September 29, 2021
Courtesy Michelle Baran

The current E. coli outbreak in Germany is a sobering reminder of how important it is for travelers to arm themselves with reliable (and relevant) health information before they head out the door.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is one of the best and most comprehensive resources we have for travel health information. The World Health Organization also provides in-depth reports on global health issues.

The CDC currently reports 15 deaths associated with the E. coli outbreak in northern Germany, and 642 patients that have been diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli.

In the U.S., there is one confirmed and three suspected cases of E. coli in people who recently traveled to Hamburg, Germany, where they were likely exposed, the CDC notes.

"At this time, a specific food has not been confirmed as the source of the infections. German public health authorities advise against eating raw sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, and leafy salads from sources in northern Germany until further notice," the agency stated.

The CDC has a page on its website devoted to travel health notices. This is a good starting point for travelers preparing for any trip, no matter how near or far, exotic or not. The government agency also has a country search option where travelers can see the CDC's recommendations for a specific country. Before a trip to the Peruvian Amazon I took a few years back, my doctor actually pulled up the CDC recommendations before deciding which vaccinations to administer.

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have an International Certificate of Vaccination, a handy yellow card (shown in the photo above) that travelers should keep with them in their travel documents case on which vaccinations are recorded, including the date and type of immunizations to help keep track of them all. Without mine, I would never have the answer to the inevitable question the doctor asks about what shots I've had and when (I got mine from my travel medicine doctor).

Many vaccinations need to be administered between four and six weeks before traveling in order to be effective, so this is something to consider in planning for your trip. And not all doctors are travel medicine doctors, so a call to your healthcare provider would be advised to see if he/she is able to administer the vaccinations you need for your trip. If not, there are travel medicine doctors and clinics that specialize in travel medicine.

Lastly, the CDC has a "Survival Guide to Safe and Healthy Travel," which covers all the other ways in which travelers can and should prepare for their trip from a medical perspective.

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