Frequently Asked Questions

Travelers' Health Basics

Q. While I am abroad, is there any way I can be contacted about an emergency that might affect me, or have my next of kin notified about my safety?


Several airlines have registration processes that allow travelers to provide their contact information, emergency contact/next-of-kin information, and travel itinerary information in case of an emergency. Please contact your airline for specific information about its emergency contact forms and procedures.

Q. What are the new requirements for traveling to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico, and Canada?


Beginning January 23, 2007, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable. See the U.S. Department of State site for details.

Q. Where can I find information about airport security and the items I am not allowed to carry onto an airplane?


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has in-depth information for travelers about security awareness, prohibited items, and travel tips. See Welcome to the TSA

Q. Where can I find information about travel health insurance and medical evacuation?


The U.S. Department of State lists travel health insurance and medical evacuation companies on their website, see Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad. For additional information, see Seeking Healthcare Abroad.

Q. Is handwashing important during travel?


Yes. One of the most important ways to reduce infectious disease transmission during travel is to wash your hands carefully and frequently.

Soap and water will help remove potentially infectious materials from your hands.
If soap and water are not available, and your hands are not visibly dirty, use a waterless, alcohol-based hand gel with at least 60% alcohol. See these websites for information about effective handwashing: Handwashing Tips (PDF document) and Hand Hygiene After a Disaster.

Q. What should I look for in choosing an insect repellent?


The most effective repellents contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) as an active ingredient. DEET has a long history of effectiveness and safety when used according to directions. A new repellent is now available in the U.S. containing 7% and 15% concentrations of picaridin (KBR 3023) as an active ingredient, which may be used if a DEET-containing repellent is not acceptable to the user. Because the percentage of picaridin is low, this repellent needs more frequent application. For more information about insect repellent use, see Protection against Mosquitoes and Other Arthropods.

Currently, the use of repellents other than DEET is not recommended for protection against mosquitoes that cause malaria, because there is less information available on how effective these repellents are against all types of mosquitoes that can transmit malaria.

Check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website to learn about insect repellents that have been EPA-approved for efficacy and human safety; see How to Use Insect Repellents Safely.

Q. What items do you suggest I bring on my trip to help me stay healthy or treat illnesses like diarrhea?


We suggest you put together a Travelers' Health Kit. You should pack your prescribed medications, including an antibiotic to self-treat moderate to severe diarrhea. In addition, bring an over-the-counter medication to prevent diarrhea, sunscreen, insect repellent, and alcohol-based hand gels containing at least 60% alcohol to wash your hands when soap and clean water are not readily available. See our full list of suggested items in Travelers' Health Kit. A variety of kits is also available commercially.

Q. How soon before I travel should I make an appointment with the doctor?


Ideally, set up an appointment with a health-care provider 4 to 6 weeks before your trip. Many vaccines take time to become effective, and some vaccines must be given in a series over a period of days or sometimes weeks. If it is less than 4 weeks before you leave, you should still see your doctor. It might not be too late to get your shots or medications and other information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while traveling.


Q. What are routine vaccinations?


"Routine vaccines," as they are often called, are generally given after birth and throughout childhood and adolescence (such as the polio/measles/mumps/rubella [MMR vaccine] and the diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus [DPT] vaccine), see the childhood and adolescent immunization schedule. There is also a routine adult immunization schedule of recommended vaccines to protect adults from common diseases they are at risk for. These vaccines are recommended even if you do not travel. Although childhood diseases, such as measles, rarely occur in the United States, they are still common in many parts of the world. A traveler who is not vaccinated would be at risk for infection.

Q. How can I order the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis?


Individual copies of the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) are not available for sale. People who receive yellow fever vaccination should get a signed and stamped ICVP from the vaccination center. The certificate is valid for travel beginning 10 days after vaccination and is good for 10 years.

Q. How do I know if there is risk for yellow fever in the country I will be visiting?


Country-specific yellow-fever risk information, along with yellow fever vaccine recommendations, are listed on the destination pages of countries where there is a yellow fever risk. Additionally, this information can be found in the Yellow Fever Vaccine Requirements and Information on Malaria Risk and Prophylaxis, all Countries (yellow pages) chart. For some countries, there are only certain areas where there is a yellow fever risk; for those countries, more specific information is given in the chart to guide the recommendation for vaccination.

Q. What is the difference between a required vaccination and a recommended vaccination?


The term "required" is used when a country's government requires a traveler to present formal proof of vaccination in order to enter the country. A "recommended" vaccination is one that is suggested to protect travelers from illnesses present in other parts of the world and to prevent the importation of infectious diseases across international borders.


Q. Can children also take malaria pills?


Yes. Children of any age can get malaria, and any child traveling to a malaria-risk area should take the appropriate antimalarial drug for the travel destination. Doses are based on the child's weight.

Q. How will I know which antimalarial drug is the correct one for me?


Many effective antimalarial drugs are available. Your health-care provider will decide the best drug for you based on the country you plan to visit and your health status.

To allow enough time for the drug to become effective and for a pharmacy to prepare any special doses of medicine, especially doses for children and infants, visit your health-care provider 4-6 weeks before travel.

Q. How do I know if there is risk for malaria in the country I will be visiting?


For countries with malaria risk areas, the destination page details risk by country and lists the correct antimalarial drug or drugs for that country. Country-specific information may also be found on the Yellow Fever Vaccine Requirements and Information on Malaria Risk and Prophylaxis, by Country (yellow pages).

Disease Risks/Outbreaks/Natural Disasters

Q. Where do I find information about general disease risks or recent outbreaks in the country I plan to visit?


Destination pages contain travel health information you need for each country, including any travel notices related to the area. Because disease risks are similar for most countries in a region, destination pages describe other diseases found in the region. It is important to remember that the risk for different diseases can very between countries within a region and also within a country. Some countries in a region will have either lower or higher risk for the listed diseases.