24 Jun 2019 Travel Healthy, Travel Happy

Relatively unknown among Malaysians, travel medicine is a rapidly-growing interdisciplinary specialty in medicine. Travel medicine counselling provides personalised medical advice and treatment according to a traveller’s medical history, health status, destination country and purpose of travel.

According to Dr Sasikala Devi A. Amirthalingam, a Family Medicine Specialist at IMU Healthcare, travel medicine concentrates on protecting the traveller against diseases, illnesses and environmental risks that may be present in the destination country.

“It’s a growing service within healthcare as there are more Malaysians travelling abroad compared to a few decades ago,” says Dr Sasikala. Frequent travelling increases the risk of travellers falling ill and spreading new or re-emerging deadly diseases. Getting a comprehensive health screening prior to the start of an intense travelling schedule would alleviate potential health risks. “It also prevents the spread of diseases upon travellers’ return from foreign countries,” Dr Sasikala adds.

A typical travel medicine counselling session might include vaccination counselling and appropriate preventive and curative medicine advice that takes into account environment-specific risks such as high altitudes, temperature and humidity, seasickness, and mosquito and insect bites.

“Travel medicine counselling can prevent unnecessary stress, inconvenience and financial expense,” Dr Sasikala notes. As many have found out the hard way, seeking medical attention in a foreign country can be very costly, even with insurance coverage.

Travel medicine and pilgrimage
According to Dr Sasikala, pilgrims are exposed to higher health risks due to the concentration of people from around the world coming together in one place at the same time.

Since 2002 for example, the Malaysian Government has allocated funding for the Ministry of Health to purchase meningococcal vaccines for Malaysians performing the haj. In November 20181 , Minister of Health Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad encouraged pilgrims to also receive the pneumococcal and influenza vaccines to avoid falling ill during their pilgrimage. A study among Malaysian pilgrims found that influenza vaccination is able to prevent 50-60 percent of hospital admission and pneumonia2.

Many elderly individuals also have inherent chronic diseases. A survey on Malaysian Umrah pilgrims found that as many as 17.3 percent have an underlying chronic disease while 21.5 percent suffer from more than one disease3 . “Apart from vaccinations, take the time to undergo health screening as this is another way to ensure one is fit and healthy to travel,” says Dr Sasikala. “Comprehensive health screening could help detect problems before the symptoms show, allowing you to prevent certain diseases, or greatly increase your chances of treating or managing them successfully.”

Gearing up for travel

Schedule a travel medicine counselling session and health screening four to six weeks before a trip to allow vaccinations and booster shots to become effective. “Some vaccines will require multiple shots over a period of time. Most vaccines require one to two weeks to take effect. Plan ahead,” Dr Sasikala advises.

“Most doctors will also likely recommend that you pack a travel medicine kit with the necessary over-the-counter medications such as antihistamine, painkillers, antiseptic cream, insect repellent, anti-diarrheal medicine and more for hassle-free travel.”

At the same time, travellers should check whether certain medications or medical conditions require a doctor’s letter. What’s considered controlled substances varies from one country to another. If you fail to adhere to the country’s guidelines, your medication may be confiscated; you may be fined or denied entry into the country or, worse, jailed for trafficking what they consider to be narcotics. “Confirm with the respective country’s embassy/consulate whether your medication must be accompanied by a doctor’s letter and prescription,” says Dr Sasikala. Most countries allow up to 30 days’ supply4 as long as travellers carry a medical certificate5 or a prescription.

Her parting words: “Take no chances, spend time to ensure your health is in tip-top shape before going abroad. After all, prevention is always better than cure.”

This article is brought to you by IMU Healthcare.


[1] ‘Haj and umrah pilgrims encouraged to take pneumococcal and flu shots’, News Straits Times, retrieved on 11 April 2019 from https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2018/11/429067/haj-and-umrah-pilgrims-encouraged-take-pneumococcal-and-flu-shots

[2] Rahman et al (2017). Mass Gatherings and Public Health. Annals of Global Health. 83 (2): 386–393 retrieved on 17 April 2019 from https://immunise4life.my/a-blessed-umrah-with-your-flu-free-family/

[3] Fatimah MN (2017). The measurement of quality of life among population within the crowd: a case study among Malaysian pilgrims. Malaysian Journal of Public Health Medicine, 17 (1): 137-145 retrieved on 17 April 2019 from https://immunise4life.my/a-blessed-umrah-with-your-flu-free-family/

[4] Tanya Mohn, ‘How to make sure you travel with medication legally,’ The New York Times, 19 Jan 2018, accessed 11 April 2019 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/19/travel/how-to-make-sure-you-travel-with-medication-legally.html

[5] ‘Traveling abroad with medicine,’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Jul 2018, accessed 11 April 2019 https://www.cdc.gov/features/travel-medicine/index.html

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24 Jun 2019|Health|0 Comments

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