How students can be safe and healthy when studying abroad

Wednesday, August 02, 2017


The school year will soon begin and, for many college students, this means pursuing education in different countries around the world.

If your student will be studying abroad this school year, there are some very important steps they can take to make sure their experience is safe and healthy, and to protect them from any illnesses or infections that can pose a risk.

According to Priscila Bercea, MPH, supervisor of Infection Prevention and Control at Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn, there are different risks depending on the host country and whether the area is urban, rural, developing or if there’s standing water nearby.

“When you study abroad you need to assess the risk of what’s prevalent in that country in terms of infectious disease. Different medications will require different ways of taking it,” she said. “Mosquito prevention is huge if you’re going to tropical areas, reducing exposure to illnesses like malaria and many others.” Bercea added, “Being proactive and prepared also means paying attention to your health and recognizing if you’re experiencing any signs or symptoms, or if you’re not feeling well.”

The key is knowing where you’re going, knowing what is common in terms of communicable and emerging diseases in that region and talking to your physician about a vaccination schedule. If you take a medicine regularly, make sure you have enough for the length of the trip.

Being proactive and prepared also means paying attention to your health and recognizing if you're experiencing any signs or symptoms, or if you’re not feeling well.


“Ensure your child gets his or her routine vaccinations, as well as those for what’s prevalent in the region where they’ll live,” Bercea said. “Really talk with your physician about where they’ll be traveling and what they will be doing in that country."

“A clinic specializing in travel medicine can provide patients with phone numbers for United States embassy consultants and physicians in the area,” said Kristi Slimak, RN, travel medicine nurse at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. “Colleges and universities also provide packets of information for students traveling abroad.”

Even if a student is experienced in international travel, paying attention to signs and symptoms of illness is important. Earlier this year, a 20-year-old college student studying in Sierra Leone experienced nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fainting – all of which led doctors to identify a diagnosis of malaria.

Practicing preventive measures can be as easy as frequent hand-washing with clean soap and water. In developing countries, Bercea says it’s important to also be careful about safe food and water. All food should be fully cooked and served hot. Fruits and vegetables should be washed and peeled, and only drink bottled water unless you’re certain it has been boiled and treated.

According to Slimak, travelers should contact their health insurance company before leaving the country to find out more information about health coverage and providers in another country.

For more detailed information, visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traveler’s health webpage for a series of documents, health tips, instructions and international travel health protection and prevention.

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