Overseas travel has inherent health risks--some serious, some just minor annoyances. Here's what you can do to ensure that your company's attendees will feel no pain when they go beyond U.S. borders.
* Research the destination--Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the U.S. State Department for advice on health risks in the area to which your group will be traveling. Remember that vaccination requirements set by a foreign country for entry into that country are designed to protect nationals from the diseases of visitors--not to protect travelers from diseases common to that country. Find out about emergency medical services on site, know the locations of hospitals, check on emergency medevac services, and contact the embassy for information on English-speaking doctors or how to get reliable medications.
* Develop a plan for illness or disability--Have a plan for treating diarrhea that includes antibiotics, antimotility agents, and a fluid/electrolyte solution. Check to see if your company health insurance covers illness abroad; consider getting emergency medical assistance insurance or a rider to your policy.
* Advise attendees--Make sure attendees get recommended immunizations several months before departure and allow time for additional boosters if they are needed. Have them pack adequate supplies of all required medications, written prescriptions, and extra eyeglasses or contact lenses.
* Take a medical kit--Put together a basic medical kit with moist towelettes, ban-dages, gauze, tape, thermometer, scissors, tweezers, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antibiotic cream, anti-diarrheal medicine, insect repellent, and sunscreen.
* Be cautious on site--Eat at busy restaurants or on site at the property. Be wary of buffets--especially late at night--and food sold by street vendors. Avoid raw shellfish, especially oysters, and items with lightly cooked eggs, milk, or mayonnaise. Be sure meat is well-cooked. Drink bottled, boiled, or chemically treated water. Beer, wine, and bottled beverages are fine as long as there isn't ice in the glass. Don't eat unpeeled fruit or purchase fruits and vegetables sold by weight. Don't walk barefoot. Ask about localized health risks associated with swimming in fresh water.
* Ask the experts--Baltimore-based Passport Health, for example, is one of a number of travel clinics that can provide timely information, specialized vaccines not normally stocked by general practitioners, and travel medical supplies. Such clinics consult with travelers, obtain medical histories and a list of trip activities, inform them of (and often administer) the vaccines required or suggested by the CDC, and provide a little yellow booklet called the International Certificate of Vaccination. They also can provide printed information on the health status of countries being visited. Atlanta-based InHouse Physicians can provide on-site and on-call medical services, as well as a mobile pharmacy and staffed medical stations. They also offer a medical education services program that can prepare meeting staff with CPR, first aid, and defibrillator training.
* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--disease information (888) 232-3228 or www.cdc.gov; international hotline with recorded information and fax-back service (404) 332-4559
* The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene--www.astmh.org
* International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers--www.sentex.net/~iamat
* International Society of Travel Medicine--www.istm.org
* InHouse Physicians Inc.--(800) 356-3627
* Passport Health--(888) 499-7277 or www.passhealth.com
* Shoreland Travel Health Online--www.tripprep.com/index.html
* U.S. Department of State--ww.travel.state.gov. To hear travel warnings, call (202) 647-5225. To get faxed copies of consular information sheets or travel warnings, call (202) 647-3000.