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International Travel Clinic: Interview with the Coordinator
February 9, 2015

Notes from a conversation with CHS Travel Clinic Coordinator

First things first – what IS the international travel clinic?

“The travel clinic is a team of individuals that are dedicated to ensuring that travelers are prepared with information, medications, and vaccines to reduce risk of illness and injury. This helps make traveling a more rewarding experience. Some students may not be apprehensive enough where others may feel less apprehensive after learning more about their destination.  We think knowledge is empowering. We want students to know how to protect themselves against infectious diseases and other travel issues.

Some of the issues we discuss are pretty unlikely – but it’s important for students to know where the unlikely could occur.

We see people doing all kinds of interesting things. Ordinarily we think of travel as being a vacation but students are working in all types of situations that could be more involved than a vacation, tourist type travel.”

What health struggles do travelers sometimes face? How does the clinic support them in overcoming those? Let’s say I’m traveling to Ghana. What do I need to know?

“Oh, that’s a good place to get malaria, but that’s not a reason not to go!” she comments.  “We can equip you with what you need to stay healthy.”

 And then it begins – she runs through a list of recommended vaccinations I potentially need prior to leaving the USofA -  Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever, Hepatitis B (if I haven’t completed the series already), Yellow Fever, pre-exposure rabies vaccines say if I’m planning to live in a rural village for the summer, meningitis, flu, TDap or Td (if I haven’t had one in the last 5 years), and I would need to take anti-malarial medication the whole time. And that’s not all.

“We provide education about STDs, precautions to follow to avoid tuberculosis, dengue fever (a mosquito borne disease), African sleeping sickness (spread by the tsetse fly), and worm infections like schistosomiasis.” She continued and noted that travelers would also be given information concerning security issues, where to get medical care while abroad, laws, crime, road conditions, transportation information, contact info for selected embassies or consulates in their destination country, and more.

What value does the travel clinic offer me?

“The travel information is difficult to digest just by reading. As some may have noticed with the previous question, the list goes on and on, so we fit stories into the presentation. We do see students return with these illnesses. For example, people are talked out of taking anti-malarial medications when they travel abroad. We show them that malaria is real. They are more likely to adhere to their medication if they know why it is important.

The class or one-on-one appointment costs $60, which compares very favorably to other travel services in the area. A lot of thought and hard work goes into our travel services. We are not just checking off boxes. If another travel clinic is not asking your medical history, other medications - all the stuff we ask – then they cannot tailor recommendations to you. I think it is scary that a person can walk into a pharmacy offering travel vaccines where they might just look up what vaccines are recommended for a particular destination. Travel health is so much more than that.

We are always tweaking what we do, and we offer a great service. I hear folks say that we should do a video and have students watch it. But I think that personal contact is so important. It gives students the ability to ask questions of a travel expert, which is invaluable. That being said, we are willing to be creative in how we provide this service. We are playing around with how to make it more convenient – especially for organizations or groups, so if you have a group traveling somewhere, get in touch with us to discuss ways to add convenience for your group.”

Where do you gather the info you present in a travel clinic class?

“Our presentation includes topics recommended for a pre-travel consultation by the International Society of Travel Medicine and the CDC. Students also receive a Travax report and pertinent maps. Travax has been in this business for over 25 years and we pay for their services. They provide up-to-date travel information and have been great about responding to specific questions I’ve sent to them over the years. 

Plus, we’re always on the lookout for important information we should be adding. For example –most worm infections are self-limiting, but there is one that we recently added to our presentation that can cause trouble years later. If a person becomes immune-suppressed or has to take steroids, it can be nasty. But to prevent it, all travelers have to do is avoid being barefoot or laying on soil that may be contaminated with human waste. So - lay on a towel, wear shoes. We added a blurb about that. We learn those kinds of things by attending various meetings and conferences. And those times when I attend a meeting and don’t learn anything new, it gives me confidence that I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about.”

How can I learn more and sign up?

“Our website explains the process – – so that’s a good place to start. Print out the questionnaire and read the directions on the back. Once you are convinced you need the travel clinic, complete as much info as you can. Sometimes you might not know your exact itinerary and that is ok. Sometimes you might not know exactly what you are doing and that is ok too. But fill out what you can. Some questions sound weird, but we do use the answers.

Once the questionnaire is done, bring or fax or email it to us and set up an appointment for the class. Once you have taken the class, if you travel later during your time at UNC, you just fill out the questionnaire and you get a call when you can pick up the packet of information and recommendations – for a $30 fee. If you want the convenience of a one-on-one appointment with a provider, you have that choice.  A provider appointment is tailored to your destination(s) and doesn’t cover as broad of scope of topics. The price for one-on-one appointments is the same as the class, but you need an appointment every trip which means you’re paying $60 each time. So if you are going (or might go) to multiple places while at Carolina, the class is the better way to go.”

Learn more details about the International Travel Clinic at the travel clinic website.



Image by Stig Nygaard, View from St. George's Castle. Used under Creative Commons license.