Dr. Darin Cherniwchan
Physician, Fraser Valley Travel Clinic
After a long pause, international travel is coming back. Here’s how you can enjoy the trip while staying safe.
Canadians are eager to travel again. After months of isolation, confinement, and working from home, the thought of getting away to relax at a resort, explore far-off lands, or simply visit friends and family is wondrously appealing.
“With all this remote working, the lines between work and home have become blurred,” says Pavithra Ravinatarajan, a registered pharmacist based in Kitchener, Ont. “As a result, many of us are looking for a change of scenery to reset our minds, which isn’t a bad thing because it can help with burnout. But we need to make sure that we take the right steps to do it safely.”
Many of us are looking for a change of scenery to reset our minds, which isn’t a bad thing because it can help with burnout. But we need to make sure that we take the right steps to do it safely.
What to consider as you plan your trip
The first step is making yourself aware of the risks — COVID-19 and otherwise. “If you’re not sure where you want to go yet, you may want to take a look at the Health Canada recommendations as well as the Canadian Travel Restrictions on the risks and vaccination requirements for different locations,” says Ravinatarajan. Along with that, you’ll want to find out what the COVID-19 protocols are for various locations, such as masking and distancing, and which activities or services may be temporarily restricted, so you can choose your destination confidently and prepare accordingly.
The next step is making sure you’re vaccinated against COVID-19 — and potentially having a valid, negative COVID-19 test — and ensuring that you have supporting documentation in order. It’s important to be aware that not every country accepts all types of COVID-19 tests. “The best thing to do is to go to a place that provides COVID-19 PCR testing or rapid antigen testing specifically for travel, because they will provide you with the proper documentation and QR code, if necessary, to enter that country,” says Dr. Darin Cherniwchan, a physician at the Fraser Valley Travel Clinic in Chilliwack, B.C.
The timing of the COVID-19 test is also crucial. “For most major centres in the world, it’s required 72 hours prior to boarding the plane, but in some countries, these rules and regulations can change on a weekly basis,” says Dr. Cherniwchan. For countries that aren’t accessible by direct flight from Canada, that testing period may be extended up to 120 hours. “It has to be calculated based on your personal itinerary, and that can get complicated if you’re travelling through several countries to get to your destination country. It can also be challenging to get timely test results if you’re leaving on a weekend, especially on a long weekend, so all these elements need to be considered,” says Dr. Cherniwchan.
Immunization for common travel-related diseases
In addition to protecting against COVID-19, it’s important to protect against other travel-related illnesses. “The last thing you want is to have your vacation ruined by something that could have been avoided,” says Ravinatarajan.
The pre-travel visit with your health care provider is a good time to ensure you discuss which destination-specific vaccines you may need, such as yellow fever, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, or rabies. “Ideally, this should be done a good six to eight weeks before departure,” says Dr. Cherniwchan. This is also a good time to ensure your non-travel routine vaccinations, such as tetanus and diphtheria, are up to date. “No matter where you are on the planet, you’re at risk for those illnesses,” says Dr. Cherniwchan.
Food- and water-related illnesses like traveller’s diarrhea also need to be factored into your protection plan. You can prevent these by avoiding tap water for drinking and tooth-brushing, and by eating only foods that are boiled, cooked, or peeled. “There are immunizations available to help prevent against cholera and diarrhea caused by a specific strain of enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) bacteria,” says Dr. Cherniwchan, who advises having a treatment plan in place before you leave, just in case. “That includes hydration, medication, and knowing who to call if you get sick. The last thing you want to do is start looking for help when you’re ill.”
Protection against mosquitoes and ticks is also paramount. “Mosquitoes are disease vectors that can spread diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Zika, Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, chikungunya, and West Nile virus,” says Dr. Cherniwchan.
The best way to protect yourself is through a combination of insect repellent on exposed skin and wearing permethrin-treated clothing. “The two work synergistically to provide higher protection, so when you wear the two together, the likelihood of getting bitten is very remote,” says Dr. Cherniwchan. This is especially important if you’re hiking or in wooded areas.
You may also want to consider packing a travel health kit. “Many pharmacies will actually set up a kit for people or you could put one together yourself,” says Ravinatarajan.
Seek proper advice
Dr. Cherniwchan advises Canadians who plan to travel internationally to consult with a travel medicine specialist to ensure that everything they need is in place. “It’s one thing for someone to look it up on the internet, but it’s another to know what’s really happening on the ground,” he says. Getting the right advice ensures your trip is that much smoother and safer.