Five days into our trip through Vietnam, my father developed a very high fever. He experienced weakness, disorientation, and loss of appetite to name a few of the sudden onset symptoms. We were in Hoi An, a historic city in the central coast of Vietnam, totally at a loss for what to do. Attempting to diagnose his illness, we researched symptoms of meningitis, allergic reactions, and the flu with our limited Internet access. Five days later, we were able to find a clinic that diagnosed him with Dengue Fever.
Unfortunately, it is all too common that people develop illnesses while traveling abroad that negatively impact their experience. A national survey published by Novartis in 1998 reported that 63 percent of Americans claimed that “[they or] a travel companion have gotten sick while on vacation.” Many travel publications feature articles addressing this issue and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you see a doctor if you suffer from some of the most common ailments, such as fever, diarrhea, or skin rash. Regardless of all of the information available online, it can be difficult to find the help you need in a foreign environment.
We were fortunate to have an experienced bilingual guide to help us secure an appointment with an International SOS clinic in Hanoi. International SOS is a leading corporation in international health care that provides medical services all over the world. Their mission is to protect the health of people affiliated with international companies or organizations in addition to individuals traveling abroad. They aim to promote international business and exploration by facilitating medical needs. International SOS is a membership program that provides subscribers with a range of services including access to “more than 850 locations in 92 countries,” “emergency medical evacuation up to $1,000,000,” and international medical insurance, to name a few. They offer a range of plans customized to fit individual needs at a range of prices with varying benefits. Their facilities were able to accommodate my father on very short notice without prior registration.
Though it may be difficult to stay updated while traveling abroad, aim to check for any relevant health notices in the specific locations you will be visiting. This is of the utmost importance, as we later learned that we were exposed to Dengue Fever on our first day while biking in the Mekong Delta, a marshy area in which the disease is quite common. Though it was just one region we were scheduled to explore, we were unaware of the specific associated health risks.
The CDC provides recommendations for how to locate medical facilities once you have arrived abroad. They provide a link to the U.S. Embassy site, providing information on how and where to reach international offices for emergency situations, in addition to information on the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM). ISTM is another organization, similar to International SOS “committed to the promotion of healthy and safe travel . . . ISTM advocates and facilitates education, service, and research activities in the field of travel medicine.” Membership to The International Society of Travel Medicine is free, and they provide access to an online directory of clinics.
The CDC also recommends The International Association for Medical Assistance for Travelers (IAMAT), a third option offering international health care for those with membership status. It is important to familiarize yourself with the various insurance policies associated with each organization and to retain copies of any and all medical bills. The CDC also reminds travelers that hotels or credit card services may be helpful resources when traveling as well.
Travel medicine can be a complex issue since it touches on topics related to ethnomedicine. Receiving alternative forms of care can be both enlightening and anxiety-provoking. In Vietnam, our accommodations offered my father a ginger tea as a non-pharmaceutical remedy to his stomach pain and shivering. This was an option that he had not received in the U.S. and felt that it had a positive impact. Ultimately, it is an individual decision what type of care you wish to receive while traveling. Most importantly it is vital that you stay up-to-date on all information pertinent to the situation you will be facing and the resources at your disposal.