Any illness that may have started abroad or only appeared after returning home should always raise the concern of a disease having been contracted while on your trip. Many infections have long incubation periods and the first symptoms may appear a long while after having returned home, sometimes as long as 6 weeks or more. These infections may be rare in your city or town of residence and could be missed by your doctor unless he/she is notified about your recent travel schedule.
Any symptom that arises after a trip abroad, even mild symptoms that would normally be ignored or treated a home should serve as a warning of a possible infection contracted abroad.
Some of these signs and symptoms include :
- Gastroenteritis – vomiting and diarrhea
- Persistent cough
- Abdominal pain
- Persistent headaches
- Muscle weakness
- General aches and pains
- Severe fatigue or malaise
- Abnormal sensations (paresthesia) – numbness, tingling, burning, itching
Medical History for Travelers
You can assist your doctor in making a quick diagnosis by cooperating and providing the necessary information about your recent trip. This will help your doctor to reach a differential diagnosis and conduct relevant tests and investigations to make the final diagnosis and initiate treatment promptly.
It is important for patients who have recently traveled to provide the following information to a doctor :
- Mention specific regions you visited and provide dates of visit.
- Also inform the doctor of any medical warnings that were issued for traveler’s to that specific area.
- Preferably show the doctor your most recent travel vaccination card.
- Admit if you have bypassed any vaccinations that were recommended by a travel agent.
- Tell a doctor about the prophylactic medicines you used prior to and during the trip.
- If you did not complete the medicines or if you avoided taking it altogether, it is important that you inform your doctor.
- Describe the environment as your doctor may be unfamiliar with the location – rural, forests, jungle, rivers, lakes, and climate conditions.
- Describe the types of habitats occupied during the trip – brick structures, mud huts, tents.
- Mention facilities within the habitat like sanitation, availability of mosquito nets and sources of water.
- Describe the types of foods consumed with particular focus on raw or partially cooked food. A doctor may not be familiar with the local cuisine so mention individual ingredients if possible. Refer to Food Infection and Intoxication for a guide to high risk foods.
- Water sources – reputable brands of bottled water, tap water, river water.
- Sexual history during the trip. Be honest about sexual contact with sex workers, casual sex with locals or other travelers and unprotected sex.
- Inform your doctor about your alcohol consumption during the trip (quantity, local brews) and the use of narcotic drugs.
- Mention your other activities during the trip – water sports in fresh water lakes, hiking in jungles and so on. Special focus should be on any activity that is considered risky like getting a tattoo while abroad.
- Bites or stings
- Any bite or sting should be reported as well as the insect, animal or reptile responsible (vector exposure).
- Also mention exposure to other insects, animals (wild or domestic) and reptiles even if there were no bites or stings.
- Illnesses during the trip
- Describe signs and symptoms of any illness during the trip and be specific.
- Even though you may have a suffered with an illness that was easy to diagnose or that was diagnosed by a medical practitioner abroad, a report of all the signs and symptoms rather than just the diagnosis may be more helpful to your doctor.
- Medical treatment
- List drugs and treatments received during the trip. Local brand/trade names may differ so always record the chemical names on the packaging. Do not attempt to bring back the drugs as this may create a problem at customs. Inform your doctor if these drugs were purchased at a reputable facility – clinic, pharmacy or hospital.
- Also inform your doctor about traditional medicines/complementary medicines and therapies undertaken during the trip.
- Mention any surgery including non-essential or cosmetic surgical procedures that you underwent during the trip.