Health and Safety
Please pay particular attention to these notices and reminders about health and safety. Remember that it is your responsibility to research conditions in the country or region to which you will be going, to take care of any health concerns you may have, and to keep up to date on changes that may occur while you are away.
We expect that students will inform themselves and make their own decisions about where they feel comfortable living and traveling. If a potentially dangerous situation develops while you are abroad, we will gladly help you contact appropriate resources, on site and elsewhere, to ensure that you have adequate information about the situation to take precautions to protect yourself and to decide whether the situation is sufficiently serious to warrant an early return. In such cases we would also work with you on any credit issues that may arise as a result of an early closing of a study abroad program, or an individual decision to return early for reasons of health and safety. We hope that your time abroad will be free of any such concerns, but obviously it is best to be prepared.
Please Note these Tips and Reminders
No matter where you are planning to study, research or intern, it is a good idea to have a physical and dental exam before you leave the US and when you return. If you see any type of health care professional on a regular basis (physician, counselor, psychiatrist, etc.), be sure to discuss your plans thoroughly with him/her.
- If you have a chronic or recurring health problem, you might want to arrange to bring adequate supplies of the appropriate medication with you. Be sure that any medication is identified by its generic name (not the brand name) and that you carry a copy of the prescription with you; check also to verify that it is permissible to bring the medication into your host country, as requirements vary. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, take an extra pair (or at least a copy of the prescription). Consider carefully what information about health conditions you should share with those helping to coordinate your program abroad, and those who will be hosting you (medical conditions, therapeutic needs, allergies, medications, etc.).
- Specific information on required and recommended vaccinations and other preventive measures for travelers is available from the Health Center, your local Health Department, your study abroad program sponsor, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization. Find out what medical concerns may be specific to your destination country and prepare yourself accordingly (i.e. mosquito nets, water purifier, etc.). The CDC sponsors an International Travelers Hotline (877-FYI-TRIP), through which you may listen to recorded information or order written materials. The CDC also publishes a booklet Health Information for International Travel. If you do need inoculations, do some comparison shopping (among your own physician, local clinics, hospitals, etc.), as costs can vary widely. The Yellow fever vaccination, if needed, is available from the University of Massachusetts Health Center (Western Massachusetts Yellow Fever Center), or the travel clinics at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and Noble Hospital in Westfield. Plan ahead, as some inoculations cannot be given concurrently, and some are ideally administered over a period of three to six months.
- Check the appropriate websites (Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, State Department, etc.) regularly for updated information about avian flu and pandemic planning. Know how infectious diseases are spread, and whether there is any particular reason for concern in the areas to which you will be traveling. Follow the advice provided by public health agencies, your program sponsor, and other knowledgeable sources about how to minimize your risk of exposure and what preventive measures you can take to safeguard your health.
- Based on recommendations from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Medical Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Tuberculosis, the staff of College Health Services strongly recommends that all who have traveled or lived for more than one month in one or more of the countries listed by the World Health Organization as having high rates of Tuberculosis should have a tuberculin skin test for latent tuberculosis. For information on countries with high incidence rates, see Rutgers' Resource. Skin testing for TB can be done at College Health Services. For most reliable testing this should be done at least 3 months after the possible exposure. There is a fee of $15.00. For more information on incidence, transmission and treatment of tuberculosis see this reference.
- If applicable, please think through arrangements for birth control ahead of time. You should also know that AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are as common as in the US, or more so, in many other countries. Whatever sorts of precautions (in terms of both careful behavior with respect to relationships and actual prophylactic measures) you would take at home should be taken abroad as well. Exercise the same prudence, good judgment, high standards, and caution that you would at home. Be careful, in every way possible.
- If you expect to need medical care or special accommodations (whether for a physical condition, mental health counseling, learning disability, etc.), you should notify your program sponsor or foreign university immediately, if you have not already done so. Your program/host institution can advise you about appropriate resources and help you link up with health care providers, support groups, etc. You should also talk with your current health care providers/counselors here to help clarify your needs and identify resources abroad.
- Whether or not you expect to need medical care while abroad, identify a doctor or clinic where you would feel comfortable as soon as possible after your arrival. Your program or sponsor may have recommendations, and US Embassies often can provide lists of English-speaking doctors. Don’t wait until you are sick to check into these resources and learn how the medical bureaucracy works.
- Take basic common-sense health precautions, and avoid activities that may put you at particular risk (such as tattooing or body piercing).
- Take along your own Traveler’s First Aid Kit. For suggestions on contents, see First Aid Resource.
- Be aware that road accidents are the single greatest risk to Americans traveling abroad in many parts of the world. In many areas, safety features that we take for granted (such as guardrails, traffic signals, good lighting, well-maintained vehicles, etc.) do not meet the standards to which we may be accustomed. Animal traffic may share the roads with pedestrians and motorized vehicles. Know the traffic patterns, standards of driving behavior, and rules of the road so that you can keep yourself safe as a pedestrian. Know the safety records of local and other means of transportation so that you can make smart choices. The Consular Information Sheets on the State Department website (see the section on “General Safety and Responsibility” on page 12) generally include information about particular issues and risks. Also see the Association for Safe International Road Travel website for additional information and resources.
Other Resources on Health and Safety
- Health Information for International Travel, available from the US Government Printing Office
- Staying Healthy in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (available from Volunteers in Asia, Box 5453, Stanford, CA 94309)
- Travel Warning on Drugs Abroad
- International Travel Health Guide by Dr. Stuart R. Rose, published by Travel Medicine, Inc., 351 Pleasant St., Suite 312, Northampton, MA 01060, tel. 584-0381. This comprehensive guide to pre-departure planning includes information on immunization requirements, how to prevent common (and not-so-common) health problems, and detailed information on health hazards and necessary precautions for more than 100 countries, plus regional summaries.
- "Travel Safe: AIDS and International Travel" offers a useful summary of how AIDS is and is not transmitted and the precautions one should take to minimize risk. Some countries now require an HIV antibody test as part of the visa application. Note in particular that not all countries have the facilities to screen adequately the blood used in transfusions; the use of sterile/disposable syringes is not standard around the world; and not all countries have adequate facilities to treat individuals who test HIV-positive. Country-specific details are available from your program sponsor and:
- CDC web site
- CDC National HIV/AIDS Hotline: 1-800-342-AIDS
- For the Hearing Impaired: 1-800-243-7889
- CDC National Clearing House: 1-800-458-5231
- World Health Organization: 1-202-861-3200
Caution Against the Following Kinds of Activities and Behaviors:
Sexual intercourse or other sexual activity (heterosexual or homosexual) with an infected person or a person whose HIV status is unknown
- Use of contaminated or unsterilized syringes or needles for injections or other skin-piercing procedures (such as acupuncture, use of illicit drugs, medical/dental procedures, ear or body piercing, tattooing, etc.)
Investigate these issues before you leave the US so that you will be able to make an informed decision about treatment if you require emergency care. When you arrive abroad, check with your program director, the Red Cross, or the US Consulate about appropriate medical facilities in your host city or region. Inform them early on of any special health concerns or needs that you have. Do not wait for an emergency, in which case you may not have the time to research your options. We strongly recommend that you inform yourself of the potential problems in the country or countries to which you plan to travel so that you may make informed decisions about appropriate precautions to take.