Picture this: you’ve booked your plane ticket, and you’ve filled your itinerary with exciting places to explore, but after arriving at your dream destination you fall sick—you’ve been caught off guard by the climate, or perhaps you’ve caught a disease or bug. Confined to your hotel room (or worse, a hospital ward)you realise, too late, thatyour travel plans should have included a visit to your doctor for travel medicine and vaccination counselling before leaving home.
Relatively unknown among Malaysians, travel medicine is a rapidly-growing interdisciplinary specialty in medicine. Travel medicine counselling provides personalized medical advice and treatment according to a traveller’s medical history, health status, destination country, purpose of travel and so forth.
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.
“Through travel medicine counselling, vaccination counselling as well as appropriate preventive and curative medicine advise including environment-specific risks such as high altitudes, temperature and humidity, seasickness, mosquito and insect bites and other factors that travellers may encounter would be provided,” Dr Sasikala explained.
“It’s a growing service within healthcare as there are more Malaysians travelling abroad compared to a few decades ago,” Dr Sasikalasaid. “Frequent travelling also 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.”
Travel medicine counsellingis therefore not just about preventing precious holidays from being ruined, or important business trips from being derailed. “By helping travellers stay healthy while abroad, travel medicine counselling also prevents the spread of diseases upon travellers’ return from foreign countries,” said Dr Sasikala.
Why schedule a travel medicine counselling session
Regardless of the kind of travel you will be doing—solo or in a group,for business, leisure, spiritual or other purposes—travel medicine counselling could help you.
Many international travellers who catch a travel-related illness require medical treatment while still abroad or upon returning from their trips.
Dr Sasikala elaborates, “Even with insurance, seeking treatment in a foreign country can be very costly. For example, frequent visitors to developing countries, are advised to schedule an appointment as it can prevent unnecessary stress, inconvenience and financial expense”
“Yellow fever and malaria may still be rampant in some tropical countries and travellers should receive vaccination or a booster dose before travelling,” continuesDr Sasikala. “Traveller’s diarrhoea is also very common due to poor hygiene or bacteria found in food and water. Practise good hygiene and be cautious of what you consume during your trip. I recommend travellers bring hand sanitiserto high-risk regions in the Middle East, Asia and Latin Americaand practice food and water hygieneto prevent catching traveller’s diarrhea,” she added.
Travel medicine and pilgrimage
One of the key preparations before going off on a spiritual journey is ensuring a fit and healthy mind and body for a blessed and safe trip. According to Dr Sasikala,pilgrims are exposed to higher health risks due to the concentration of people from around the world in one place at the same time.
The Malaysian Government, for example,is doing its part by pushing for all umrah and haj pilgrims to take precautions against diseases prior to their departure to Saudi Arabia. Since 2002, the Government has allocated funding for the Ministry of Health to purchase meningococcal vaccines for Malaysians performing the haj.
In November 2018, 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 highly contagious disease, the pneumococcal disease can easily spread through direct contact with an infected personor a carrier’s mucus or saliva. In severe cases, it can cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, blood infection and pneumonia, which may lead to death. A study among Malaysian pilgrims found that influenza vaccination is able to prevent 50-60% of hospital admission and pneumonia
Many elderly individuals also have inherent chronic diseases. A survey on Malaysian Umrah pilgrims found that as many as 17.3% have an underlying chronic disease while 21.5% suffer from more than one disease.“Apartfrom vaccinations,take the time to undergo health screening as this is another way to ensure one is fit and healthy. Comprehensive health screening could help detect problems before the symptoms show, allowing you to prevent certain diseases, or greatly increases your chances of treating or managing them successfully,” advise Dr Sasikala.
 ‘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
 ‘Pneumococcal Disease: Risk Factors and Transmission’, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, retrieved on 11 April 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/about/risk-transmission.html
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/
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/
Gearing up for travel
Regardless of where your next adventure takes you, your health should always come first. Dr Sasikala recommendsthat travellers schedule a travel medicine counselling session and health screening four to six weeks before the 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,” she said.
“Make sure that your traveller’s immunisation history is up to date and you are fit to travel,” Dr Sasikala added. “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,” said Dr Sasikala. Most countries allow up to 30 days’ supply as long as travellers carry a medical certificate or a prescription.
“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,”concludes Dr Sasikala.
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
 ‘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
About IMU Healthcare
Established in 2010, IMU Healthcare (IMUH) is a modern integrated healthcare provider that brings the disciplines of allopathic medicine under one roof alongside those of complementary and alternative medicine.
Comprising of Medical, Dental/Oral Health, Chiropractic and Chinese Medicine centres, IMUH services range from basic primary healthcare to advanced specialties and sub-specialties suitable for patients of all ages and backgrounds. IMUH’s team of doctors, dentists and practitioners is focused on assisting patients with the knowledge of the many treatment options available and helping them reach the outcome that restores them to optimal health.
IMUH’s medical clinic was the first private outpatient centre in Malaysia that was awarded the Malaysian Society of Quality in Health (MSQH) accreditation in 2011. It continues to receive its reaccreditation for another full term of four years (2015 – 2019).
For more information, please visit: http://www.imuhealthcare.com.my/