Your Health

Travel tips to keep you safe and healthy this winter

Photo of a bed with mosquito netting over it, in a tropical hotel room.
Photo of Jacquie Shackel. JACQUIE SHACKEL
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, January 26, 2018

Winter is a time to get away from the cold Manitoba weather and soak up the sunshine of warmer climates.

Whether you are travelling south to the United States, the Caribbean or Mexico, backpacking through southeast Asia, or heading out on safari in eastern Africa, you want to take steps to ensure your journey is safe and enjoyable.

The first thing a prospective traveller should do is check out the Government of Canada’s website: www.travel.gc.ca. There are many websites with travel health information, but it is important to use a reputable site, and one that preferably has Canadian recommendations.

Everything you need to know about travel is at your fingertips at travel.gc.ca. This site addresses issues such as country-specific travel alerts and advisories, issues on safety and security, entry and exit requirements, health concerns, including recommended vaccines, information about laws and culture, climate details, and where you can receive emergency consular assistance. It also has many travel-related publications that are very helpful in planning your trip.

It’s also important to schedule an appointment with a health-care provider who specializes in pre-travel health services. Appointments should be scheduled at least six to eight weeks in advance of your departure date to discuss your travel plans and itinerary. A listing of travel health clinics in Manitoba is available on the Government of Canada’s travel health website (www.travelhealth.gc.ca).

Once you have your pre-travel health assessment scheduled, you should assemble all of your previous immunization records and take them to your appointment. This will assist your health- care provider in making better immunization decisions with you. When travelling abroad, many countries do not have high immunization rates like we do here in Canada, which means that certain infections can occur at a much higher rate, so you are at greater risk of getting sick. This is a good opportunity, and even better reason, to have all your routine vaccinations updated prior to leaving Manitoba. In addition, travel-specific vaccinations may also be recommended for you, based on your exact itinerary. Here are some possible health-related concerns relevant to travel in tropical destinations:

  • Mosquito-borne illnesses: Many illnesses, like chikungunya fever, dengue fever, malaria, Zika virus and yellow fever are spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Zika virus, however, can also be spread from a person infected with Zika virus to a sexual partner and from a pregnant woman infected with Zika virus to her developing fetus, leading to very severe abnormalities in newborn babies. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has a listing of countries with recent or ongoing risk of Zika virus infection. Pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should check this listing prior to travel and should avoid travel to countries with recent or ongoing risk of Zika virus. Some illnesses like yellow fever can be prevented by vaccine, while others like malaria can be prevented by taking a medication. However, many illnesses spread by mosquitoes, like chikungunya, dengue and Zika viruses, do not have vaccinations or medications to prevent them, so it is imperative that you take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
  • Tummy troubles: With eating or drinking certain foods or beverages from tropical countries, there may be an increased risk of contamination with bacteria, parasites or viruses, which can cause travellers’ diarrhea (TD). TD has always been, and continues to be, a problem globally. Take precautions with the food you eat and the beverages you drink. Never drink or brush your teeth with untreated tap water in tropical countries.
  • Don’t leave home without it: It is important to travel with additional travel health insurance. If you should need to access medical care while abroad, you should consult with your travel health insurance company. Another good resource is the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) at www.iamat.org. They produce a medical directory that lists physicians in every country who are trained in western medicine and speak English.

If you get sick once you return from your trip, you should consult with an infectious diseases or tropical medicine specialist. You may need a referral from your regular health-care provider or you can self-refer, depending on the location. For more information, contact:

  • WRHA Travel Health and Tropical Medicine Services (204-940-8747).
  • Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg, Infectious Diseases Section  (204-787-7145).
  • St. Boniface Hospital, Infectious Diseases Section (204-237-2927).

Stay safe and travel wisely!

Jacquie Shackel is Travel Health Co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Travel Health & Tropical Medicine Services. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, January 26, 2018.


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