Vaccination: Vaccination is an important part of planning a vacation. It can be hard to know what vaccinations you need and how far ahead you need them. (See It’s a Bug’s Life, Family Health, Winter 2005.)
To get information, visit your family doctor or stop by one of the many travel clinics located across Canada. Some clinics are run privately, while some are run by public health. Call ahead to find out if there is a consultation fee on top of the cost of vaccinations. You do not need a referral from your doctor to visit a travel clinic. Simply call and set up an appointment.
Travel clinics are designed to provide travellers with current medical and health information regarding specific destinations. A certified nurse or doctor can provide vaccination schedules, tips about selecting safe foods, and other general health information about your destination. Plan to visit a travel clinic about six to eight months before you leave. This allows enough time to receive all necessary vaccinations.
The Travel Medicine Program website, www.TravelHealth.gc.ca, run by the Government of Canada, is an excellent resource for travellers. It provides general health advisories for other countries, disease outbreak warnings, and immunization recommendations. Information on topics including jet lag, travellers’ diarrhea, and malaria is available, along with a list of Canadian travel clinics.
Information about you: You will need some form of identification, most often a passport, to enter another country. Travellers should also carry medical identification. Carry a wallet card recording current medications, allergies, and disease conditions to inform medical personnel about you in case of emergency. For instance, if you had a seizure disorder and asthma, your wallet card might look similar to the info card shown here.
If you have serious allergies or a life-threatening condition, you may also choose to wear a medical alert bracelet. These bracelets can provide vital information to medical personnel. For instance, someone experiencing a severe reaction to peanuts, or someone with diabetes experiencing very low blood glucose might not be able to explain their condition in an emergency. Information regarding the MedicAlert™ program can be found at most pharmacies or on-line.
Medical travel insurance: Medical travel insurance is often an overlooked detail. Problems do arise, and health care in Canada can be very different from that of other countries. Planning ahead can save time, money, and frustration down the road. Your provincial drug plan (for instance, Saskatchewan Health) is not likely to cover medical expenses you have outside of Canada. Similarly, if you need transportation back home from another Canadian province, your provincial plan likely will not cover that either. You, the traveller, are responsible for obtaining additional health insurance.
Travel insurance is available through a number of organizations, such as your provincial drug plan (for instance, Saskatchewan Blue Cross), travel agencies, banks, CAA, and others such as the Canadian Snowbird Association.
Some credit cards offer limited travel health insurance. Check to confirm the amounts and requirements for qualification.
Traveling with prescription medications can go smoothly if you take a little extra time to plan for all of your needs.
Take about seven to 10 days worth of extra medication with you in case of
an unexpected delay.
Keep medications in their original, labelled prescription containers. Do not save room by combining them.
If you pack your medication into dosettes or weekly pill containers at home, have your pharmacy pack them for your holiday. Your weekly containers do not identify medications properly, which can be a problem when crossing borders. Pharmacy packs have all the prescription information labelled right on the package.
If you will need a prescription filled, do it in Canada. Most other countries, including the United States, cannot fill a prescription written by a Canadian doctor.
Pack a supply of your medication in your carry-on bag, in case your luggage is lost or delayed. Carry insulin or other temperature-sensitive medications in your carry-on bag, as temperatures in cargo holds can vary dramatically. This may lower the medication’s effectiveness. Any special medical considerations can usually be handled by phoning the airline ahead of time.
When traveling to a foreign country, it is a good idea to carry a note from your doctor that describes your medications and medical conditions. This is especially important if you require medication for severe pain or a narcotic. The note may help solve any problems you may have entering another country with your medications. Many customs officials are strict when dealing with narcotics, even with a doctor’s note. If possible, make alternative arrangements ahead of time.
In addition to your doctor’s note, take a list of all medications, including non-prescription drugs, herbs, and vitamins. Be sure the list includes the generic name of the drug (the official name given on the basis of the active ingredient), and the brand name of the drug (the name chosen by the manufacturer). Include the strength of your medication. For instance, the blood pressure medication Altace™ comes in four different strengths: 1.25, 2.5, 5 and 10 milligrams, so just having the name of the medication is not enough.
People who carry medical supplies such as a syringe or lancet may need a certificate from their doctor explaining the condition and authorizing the use a needle. The Canadian Diabetes Association provides excellent information on how to travel with supplies for diabetes and lists special precautions that may be needed.
If you need medical services when you are traveling, consult your travel insurance company first. They will advise on the process to use to get the care you need.
Some medications available without a prescription at your travel destination may actually be illegal in Canada. Consult Canada Customs before you bring back any medication to Canada, whether prescription or non-prescription.
If you must purchase prescription or non-prescription medications in another country, take care. A common problem for travellers is the possibility of buying a counterfeit medication. It can be hard even for experts to identify counterfeits. Still, there are a few ways to help identify a possibly fake medication (see Avoiding Counterfeit Medications sidebar).
Do not use or purchase recreational or street drugs, especially in another country. Although you are a Canadian citizen, when you are in other countries you must obey their laws. Penalties for purchasing illegal or street drugs can result in fines, jail time and even worse. Pay attention to drug laws and follow them.
Whether traveling within Canada or overseas, you must plan ahead when it comes to your health. Make sure you understand your medications and health insurance before you leave home. Do not be afraid to ask your doctor, pharmacist, travel consultant or travel health nurse for information. Here’s to healthy and happy traveling!
Excellent travel references
Government of Canada
Health Canada: Travel Medicine Program (TMP) www.TravelHealth.gc.ca
Travel Advice for Canadian Snowbirds and Other Travellers: Heading South eh?
www.hc-sc.gc.ca (search: travel)
Foreign Affairs Canada travel publication:
Bon Voyage, But...
Canadian Diabetes Association:
Travel Tips for People with Diabetes
www.diabetes.ca (search: travel)