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Aug 18, 2009

By Maj. Steven Knapp (USAG Wiesbaden)

WIESBADEN, Germany - We know that money can't buy health. So why do we diligently plan the financial aspect of our travels, yet totally forget - or wait until the last minute - before considering the health risks of the trip.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a visit to a travel clinic four to six weeks before travel, especially when planning trips to Africa or Asia, to ensure vaccinations and medications are received early enough to protect you on your trip.

The closer the traveler is to takeoff, the less the vaccinations have a chance to build up the necessary immunity in your body.

Vaccinations alone do not protect you from getting a disease. They just initiate an immune response in your body to start building a defense system. It does not happen overnight.

The four-to-six-week recommendation provides for the full immune response.

Your body takes a beating when you travel. Your immune system also comes under constant attack, being exposed to hundreds of people and their germs from all over the world. Early mornings, late nights, poor eating choices, too many snacks, not enough water, carrying heavy bags, the stress of getting there on time ... the list is endless. Your immune system needs to be in top condition to fight off the increased requirements.

Hand washing is the number one way to prevent illness. It is hard to find a sink sometimes so pack a three-ounce hand sanitizer in an easy-to-reach pocket to kill the germs by the quick grab, squirt and rub.

Prevent sickness when you travel by planning ahead. Pack the day before and have the bags sitting by the front door or in the car. This gives you extra sleep hours in the morning and less stress when trying to get going in the morning.

Remember to drink water. Knowing that drinks are free on international flights tempts us to order a cool beer, soft drinks or slurp down that third cup of coffee. Good hydration allows for better sleep, improved immunity and less snacking.

Anticipate and plan ahead for meals. Our bodies need quality fuel, and smart nutrition choices are the key to feeling better overall.

Bring your favorite sunscreen and insect repellant. Too often the off brands we get while traveling are too greasy or uncomfortable so we end up not using them as we normally would and suffer the consequences.

Call your local health clinic to schedule a travel medicine clinic appointment, check out trip recommendations on and review your Tricare travel benefits by contacting your local Tricare office or online at (Maj. Steven Knapp is the chief of Public Health for the Wiesbaden Health Clinic)

Photo credit: Jennifer Clampet (USAG Wiesbaden)