Include a stop at travel medicine clinic in your globe-trotting plans
July 14, 2009
By David Hayes
Whether you’re taking a vacation south of the border, are being sent overseas to work in a developing economy or are heading to a Third-World country to do God’s work, make sure you include Michelle Vierra in your plans.
Vierra is the head of Travel Medicine at the University of Washington Medicine Issaquah Clinic. She said when planning a trip, one of the first things you should do is set up an appointment with a health care provider, either your regular doctor or a travel medicine specialist.
Stop by Vierra’s office, tell her where you’re going and with two clicks of a mouse button, she can pull up on her computer screen everything you need to know about your destination regarding your health.
There are four basic areas of information Vierra shares with her clients, between 50 and 70 people per week:
-Food and water precautions — “The standard is boil it, peel it, cook it or forget it,” she said.-Insect precautions — On top of which to avoid and what to do if bitten, Vierra said even what you wear is a factor. “Khaki attracts less than pink or blue, and keep in mind what fragrance you’re wearing, such as perfumes or cologne,” she said.
-Rabies — Few people know that as many as 40,000 people a year die of rabies in India. “We Americans, without a second thought, pet strange dogs, when people in India know you shouldn’t do that,” Vierra said, pointing out that most dogs in developing countries do get shots for rabies.
-Traffic accidents — The No. 1 hazard to tourists or anyone new to many developing countries are traffic accidents. “Places like Brazil consider red lights as merely a suggestion,” she said. “They do not stop for pedestrians.”
Once past the generalities, Vierra pinpoints shots for each country that are requirements, recommended and routine.
For example, if you’re going to the Congo in Africa, then yellow fever inoculation is required. A shot to protect against Hepatitis A, tetanus or diphtheria are recommended in many travel destinations. And a routine shot is something taken regularly, such as against the flu.
Vierra then gets specific for each person, going over his or her medical history and how it may be affected in a particular country, including diabetes, insulin and needles, heart disease or even recent cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy.
One thing Vierra said to keep in mind is when to plan a visit to her office or your primary health care provider.
“Some countries, for example, require a yellow fever vaccination 10 days prior to leaving the U.S.,” she said. “You’re given a yellow certificate that proves you’ve gotten the shot, and some places won’t even let you on the plane unless you show that card.”
Obviously, you want to schedule your visit as early as possible before leaving the country. But all is not lost if you forget.
“I’ve had people come see me the day before they leave,” Vierra said. “But depending upon the vaccination, an immunity can build up even if you were immediately exposed to the virus.”
Additionally, the sooner you get shots that can have side effects, the more likely they’ll have subsided before you travel, she said.
Because Vierra is so busy and is at the clinic only three days a week, a second doctor, Seema Diddee, now sees just those heading to India. These days, that includes a growing number of Microsoft employees going there to work.
Anyone can come in to get a consultation at the travel clinic, regardless whether they’re regular UW Medicine patients.
“Under 18, you must be seen with your parents,” she added. “I do see a lot of kids traveling, especially on church missions.”
If you go
UW Medicine Issaquah Clinic
1455 11th Ave. N.W.
Reach Reporter David Hayes at 392-6434, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.