May 30, 2002 — That dream vacation can quickly become a nightmare if you become sick in a strange land. The key to keeping your health from going south while you’re exploring the North Pole (or any other exotic clime) is a pre-trip visit to the University of Utah School of Medicine’s International Travel Clinic.
“In less than an hour, we can advise you on the major health risks for your destination and see that you get the appropriate immunizations and prescriptions,” said Stephanie S. Gelman, M.D. “We sit down with you and determine–based on your itinerary, length of stay and medical history–your risk for certain infections and other diseases.”
Gelman, clinic director DeVon C. Hale, M.D., and a registered nurse with 10 years’ experience in travel medicine staff the clinic, the most comprehensive of its kind in Utah. It is located in Salt Lake City at University of Utah Hospitals & Clinics’ Redwood Medical Center, 1525 West 2100 South. Hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, although special arrangements can be made for group counseling after hours or on weekends.
“Pre-trip counseling is encouraged for everyone traveling to medium- and high-risk countries, but it’s especially important for pregnant women, individuals who are immunosuppressed and people with multiple medical problems,” according to Gelman, who advises travelers to schedule an appointment at least four weeks prior to their planned departure.
The counseling package includes: A comprehensive booklet of travel risks and advice; information about what immunizations might be needed; prescriptions for prevention and/or treatment of diarrhea, malaria, allergic reactions, altitude sickness and jet lag; and a print-out of destination-specific information about the country or countries to be visited.
The cost of a travel counseling appointment is $50 for the first person, $30 for additional travelers and $25 for groups of more than six, plus the cost of the vaccinations. The cost of the vaccines is billed to the travelers’ insurance companies,
about 50 percent of which cover these preventive immunizations.
“When the water is not potable, we’ll help you decide whether to use a filter or iodine. We’ll tell you what food is safest to eat, and what precautions to take to avoid things like malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever,” Gelman explained.
Africa, where malaria is always a concern, is the highest-risk destination right now, according to Gelman. But even Mexico, a favorite sun spot of Utahns, is not without red flags. “Traveler’s diarrhea and Hepatitis A are still prevalent there,” she said, “and if you’re planning to stay for awhile, we recommend a typhoid vaccination.”
Even with the most meticulous preparation, individuals may return from vacation or business travel, church missionary work or humanitarian aid projects with some unwanted health souvenirs. Drs. Gelman and Hale specialize in the evaluation of health problems in returning travelers and are prepared to evaluate symptoms and recommend diagnostic studies and treatment for individuals who believe they may have contracted a disease during travel. They also are part of a GeoSentinel early alert system sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which watches for patterns of disease in returning travelers.
Appointments for pre- and post-travel evaluations can be made by calling the University Redwood Clinic, 801-887-2400.