“Doc, I’m going to the Olympics do I need anything?” It happens every 4 years. Millions of people converge upon a city to watch athletes compete. It seems easy enough, but did you know that this year there is a concurrent UEFA soccer championship in Poland and the Ukraine too? So how do you help your patients prepare to be in close contact with thousands of people from all over the world?
1. Prepare for the destination. Europe is in the middle of a measles outbreak. Tens of thousands have become quite ill and some have died. Make sure that your patient has had at least two MMR vaccines at least one month apart sometime in their lives. If your patient is not sure, consider another dose.
Check that your patient is current on his/her adult vaccines including Tdap and influenza. Most adults are surprised to find that their children are better immunized than they are.
2. Keep them comfortable. Patients traveling from the USA are liked to suffer jet lag. Advise you patients to take it easy the first few days, get out into the sunlight in the morning and afternoon, and take melatonin at bedtime to hasten resetting of their internal clocks.
Remind your patients to eat and drink regularly and only use alcohol in moderation. Likewise, wash hands often and cover up when coughing or sneezing. Of course, sunscreen is always a good idea too.
3. Give their chronic diseases a tune-up. Make sure your patient’s routine health issues are ‘tuned-up’ For example, asthmatics will need fresh inhalers and a plan for how to handle a flare-up. Likewise diabetics will need to address their food and medication needs. Advise you patients to take their medications in their original containers and to take more than they plan on using in the event there is a delay in transit.
Your patients need to become familiar with how to get healthcare in London. If their health insurance does not cover overseas treatments they will need to purchase additional coverage. The CDC website has a list of reputable, travel health insurance vendors. Travel health insurance is surprisingly affordable.
4. Keep them safe and secure. The large crowds and festive nature make injury more likely. Encourage your patients to travel in groups instead of alone. Suggest that your patients develop a plan to reunite in the event they get separated from each other. Warnings have already been issued about the overburdened public transit system; it may be better to walk than use the underground system.
Remind your patients that risky behaviors are risky everywhere. Don’t forget to review safe sex practices and warnings about piercing and tattoos; it can be difficult to judge the cleanliness of studios.
All travelers should be advised to register with the Safe Travel Enrollment Program (STEP) at the US State Department website. While they are on the website they can review safe travel practices.
Traveling to the Olympics is a trip of a lifetime. A few simple measures will keep your patients healthy and comfortable as they cheer for their favorite athletes. Simply advise them to update their vaccines, treat jet lag, tune up their chronic diseases, and remind them about personal safety. Your advice will keep them comfortable and safe.
Sarah Kohl is a pediatrician and travel medicine specialist. She blogs at TravelReadyMD.
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