The majority of Canadians who travel abroad will come home with souvenirs and plenty of stories to tell. But a few will return with an infectious disease not found at home and tainted memories of their trip. This underscores the importance of talking to a health care professional about preventative measures to be taken, including vaccinations, at least six to eight weeks before departure.

Dr. Timothy Kelton, Medical Director at The Complete Traveler’s Clinic in Scarborough, ON, helps Canadians take proactive measures to safeguard their health while taking trips outside of the country. As someone who travels himself, Dr. Kelton has seen the impact of various infectious diseases on local populations first-hand, which gives him additional insight into the importance of keeping you and your loved ones safe.

Long-term impacts on health

“While some of these conditions might seem mundane, they can have lasting implications on your health,” says Dr. Kelton. For example, diarrhea caused by enterotoxigenic E. coli bacteria can lead to long-term effects after the initial symptoms have subsided. Post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or spastic colon can be triggered, even after the use of an antibiotic. That’s one reason why he suggests an oral vaccine for this type of bacteria to his patients.

He also recommends getting vaccinations for hepatitis A (which spreads through contaminated food and water) and B (which is transferred through blood and other bodily fluids, and can even be contracted via unclean manicure tools at a spa). Though the chances of you contracting these diseases are slim, they too have serious, long-term health implications. As Dr. Kelton says, “It’s easier to try and prevent these conditions than it is to treat them after the fact.”

Guard yourself from mosquito bites

Mosquitoes remain a health concern for travellers abroad since they may transmit potentially fatal conditions, including the Zika virus; Japanese encephalitis (found in Asia); chikungunya, a disease that migrated from Africa and Asia into the Caribbean in 2013, causing fever and severe joint pain; yellow fever (found in subtropical areas of Africa and South America); dengue fever, which causes symptoms ranging from headaches to organ impairment (found in Africa, Central/South America and the Caribbean); and malaria (commonplace in many areas of the world). Many of these diseases can be prevented with oral medications (e.g. malaria) and vaccinations (e.g.  Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever).

Along with light-coloured and long-sleeved clothing, it’s essential to pack insect spray and apply it regularly — even during the day.

Travellers should also adopt some easy habits to protect their health, including washing hands regularly, being wary of potentially contaminated foods and drinks (especially those with ice cubes), and using a sunscreen with a high SPF.

Before you go, know the risk of potential diseases and take the opportunity to have a discussion with your health care provider.