Travel Health for Today's Globally Mobile Workforce

Do you have international short-term assignment “rotators” among your workforce — employees who often work off the beaten path in places like Brazil, China, Eastern Europe, the Pacific Rim, and the Middle East for weeks or months, then return home for an equal amount of time before returning overseas?

Travel Health-Man on Boat

The distance and isolation of these assignments make it important to know the health and safety risks of the area. International travel warnings recently have focused on the mosquito-borne Zika virus. The greatest risk is to pregnant women; the virus causes only mild illness in most people, and is rarely fatal. But other diseases – such as malaria, yellow fever, cholera, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and typhoid fever – have long been prevalent in certain regions, and still are today.

For those infectious diseases that are vaccine preventable, your overseas employees will need appropriate vaccinations to prevent contracting those diseases. For those diseases that do not have vaccinations available, prophylactic medications such as those used for malaria prevention, or avoidance of exposures from mosquito bites or from contaminated food and water is essential. Global occupational health services provide vaccinations, travel medications, travel advice, and fit-for-duty exams which are highly recommended for workers tasked with physically demanding jobs especially outdoors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seeing a doctor 4-6 weeks before traveling overseas for possible vaccinations and to discuss health hazards that can be expected at assignment locations. Global health service providers can provide workers heading overseas health information reports for specific geographic areas, including the most current information on immunizations, vaccines, health precautions, and disease outbreaks.

Adjustment disorders

Imagine working tightly scheduled, physically demanding jobs, with long hours, often in isolated regions far from home. It’s no surprise that consequences can include anxiety, depression, and increased smoking, drinking, and overeating. Occupational health providers mitigate these risks with health promotion and wellness consultations, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and medical evaluations of workers who will face these stressors.

Attention to detail

Pre-existing medical conditions such as allergies, heart disease, or diabetes need to be addressed. Any of your employees taking medications containing narcotics should travel with a physician’s note, translated if necessary, stating their legitimate need for the medication. Medications in general should be carried in their original prescription containers.

Prior to take-off

Consulting with health experts prior to assignments also reinforces important messages:

• The need to stay physically fit through simple exercises such as walking or jogging 

• Packing a travel health kit that includes first-aid supplies, any prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, sunscreen, and insect repellent

• Keeping hydrated while traveling

• Eating healthy meals

• Avoiding alcohol in excess

• Drinking bottled water and eating food fully cooked and served hot, versus local tap water, ice, and raw fruits and vegetables

• Communicating frequently with family and friends at home and updating them with any changes to the travel itinerary

No one likes to think that something bad will happen during foreign assignments, but accidents and illnesses are real threats. Preparing for health and safety hazards in the destination country with the assistance of occupational medical experts can help prevent injuries and illnesses while on assignment.