If you are traveling within the United States, you are going to experience the same precautions and the same medical protections that you have in your hometown. This is because hospitals and clinics are often partially or fully federally funded, so the requirements for safety and wellness are utilize consistently. Canada and other destinations that are considered “first world countries” may have different protocols but travelers typically experience a high quality of care and a high attention to safety, as these nations commonly have access to the same medical information, technology, and education for their staff as the United States.
Some countries or cities and towns within countries lack access to clean water or sterilizing tools, which can lead to a situation where the intentions are good but the safety and cleanliness of the facility and its equipment may be lacking. In these less urban areas, risks may be considered higher than they are in more developed areas.
If you are traveling on a cruise ship, the medical treatment options may be limited simply due to the uniqueness of the traveling experience. Although the cruise ship’s facilities and tools are able to be properly cleaned, medical emergencies may be handled by taking the patient to the nearest port for treatment, which may be in any number of countries, depending where the cruise ship is sailing on your particular trip.
Wherever you travel, if you have health insurance, it is important to contact your healthcare provider before you travel to discuss your trip. You may even wish to make a general appointment with your primary care physician. This is because some medical professionals will recommend preventative medications or shots to help keep your body healthy when it is exposed to new and more localized illnesses. It is also because some insurance companies limit their coverage when away from the primary living and working areas. Knowing in advance about these factors may influence travel decisions and they may matter in the future, as some medical treatments may not be covered and can leave a patient with a large financial burden due to medical debt incurred via injury during a trip.
If you are uncertain about the safety or risk of hepatitis C exposure, you can contact the Center for Disease Control personally or visit their website. They always have an updated world map, which shows the prevalence of hepatitis C in each country. This information may help you to make your travel arrangements or decide what precautions you may need to take before, during, and after your trip.
How Do I Protect Myself While Traveling?
Seeing your doctor is a great way to be proactive with your health before a trip. Some countries have very specific illnesses which can be prevented through shots or medications that can be prescribed before you leave for your trip. In addition, you can help yourself by packing rubber gloves, individually wrapped bandages, and even a face mask in your suitcase if you are traveling to a location where you cannot be sure you will have access to emergency facilities or to typical pharmacy and first aid provisions. This way, if you encounter someone in the midst of a trauma, you can protect yourself from being exposed to their blood or, if you experience trauma, you can cover small wounds or provide protection to your caregiver while they provide aid to you.
As you travel, it is important to minimize exposure to any risk of hepatitis C. This includes washing your hands regularly, being aware of any small open wounds you may have and keeping them covered, and being aware of the food and beverages you consume. Although the risk is low, some people prefer to personally wash any raw vegetables or fruits. It is recommended that those visiting developing nations or areas use sealed bottled water to wash their hands, open areas (such as faces, ears, and genitals), to wash their food, and to drink. It is also important to avoid ice cubes unless you are certain they were made from a clean tray, using clean water. This helps to ensure that the body is only exposed to safe water and that nothing has been contaminated during the preparation of the meal.
It is also recommended that footwear be chosen for safety, even when it is less fashionable. In some areas, sharp needles, tools, or other dangerous objects may be on the ground. This can lead to unexpected exposure to the hepatitis C virus if a person’s foot is punctured through their footwear.
Lastly, it is important that each traveler pack and use their own grooming tools. Razors, nail clippers, and toothbrushes should never be shared, as they may have been exposed to blood and thus could be contaminated with the hepatitis C virus. In addition, it is important for people to avoid coming into contact with used sanitary products, as those too may have blood on them.
What If I Think I’ve Become Exposed While Traveling?
If you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, it is important to be tested as soon as possible. However, some people prefer to wait until they return home, where the test can be done by their preferred physician and/or at a location that is covered by their insurance. If your trip is short, many do not consider it harmful to wait for a few days or even weeks to be tested. If your trip is lengthy, you may wish to find out whether you can access a clinic or hospital in an urban area or a developed nation. This will allow you to be tested while minimizing risks to other illnesses as well. If you are uncertain of your options, it is recommended that you contact your care provider via phone or email.1-4
Hepatitis C. (2016). Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Retrieved 21 September 2016, from https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/hepatitis_c.html
Hepatitis C - Lifestyle FAQs - NHS Choices. (2016). Nhs.uk. Retrieved 21 September 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hepatitis-C/Pages/Livingwith.aspx
HIV & hepatitis - Hepatitis C. (2016). Aidsmap.com. Retrieved 21 September 2016, from http://www.aidsmap.com/Hepatitis-C/page/1506093/
Prevention, C. (2016). Hepatitis C - Chapter 3 - 2016 Yellow Book | Travelers' Health | CDC. Wwwnc.cdc.gov. Retrieved 21 September 2016, from http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2016/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/hepatitis-c