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Travel Health Advice for the USA
The USA is a rather safe country with relatively few health risks. Widespread diseases and allergies are very rare, food and water are usually clean, and you won’t have to worry about your health when you travel there, except in very few cases. At the same time, medical care is readily available and, if you have sufficient health insurance, relatively uncomplicated.
Health Threats and Common Diseases
Although serious health threats are rare in the United States, certain infectious diseases are rather common in certain areas of the country or among specific groups of people:
- Meningococcol disease, for instance, mostly spreads on college campuses and in dormitories, where students live together in a confined space. This is why many people get vaccinated at an early age.
- The West Nile Virus has been known to occur in the USA since 1999. It is transmitted by mosquitoes and is mostly prevalent in Colorado, California, Nebraska, and Texas. There is no vaccination against the West Nile Virus.
- E. Coli is a bacteria which is often found in contaminated food and can cause mild fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. While the food and water quality in the USA is generally very good, E. coli can be found in prepackaged lettuce and unpasteurized milk products.
- Dengue fever and rabies have become more common in the US in recent years. Dengue fever is common in Southern Texas and Central Florida. Rabies occurs regularly in 13 states and is often transmitted by raccoons, bats, skunks, and other wild animals.
- The Hanta virus is mostly prevalent at Yosemite National Park and the surrounding area. Infections come from having contact with infected rodents and can cause symptoms which are similar to the common flu.
While precautions (against mosquito bites for instance) are always important when you travel, you do not need to get vaccinated or become overly careful unless you are going to spend some time in areas in which one of these diseases is common. If you are looking for information on any current outbreaks, take a look at the website of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before your visit.
If you plan on traveling to the United States as a tourist, there are no mandatory vaccinations you need to take care of before you get on the plane. Of course, basic immunizations, including tetanus and diphtheria, should always be up-to-date. If you are planning a backpacking or hiking trip, that will lead you through rural areas, it makes sense to get vaccinated against rabies and hepatitis B, if you haven’t already done so. Also make sure your travel health insurance covers emergency care and other medical services.
What you should keep in mind, is that the rules for mandatory vaccinations are different if you travel to the United States on a work visa or as an immigrant. In that case, stricter rules apply and you will be required to provide proof of immunization together with your visa application. Schools and universities often have similar requirements. Even if you are personally opposed to vaccinations, your children will need to be properly vaccinated if they are supposed to attend school in the US.
Health Issues Caused by Climate
It is important to remember that some regions in the USA are prone to extreme weather conditions: the south is often hot and humid during the summer months, the north can be very cold, snowy and windy, and the Pacific Northwest is known for its big amounts of rain. People with health conditions such as asthma, atopic dermatitis, or arthritis might struggle with these weather conditions.
Moreover, climate change is palpable and causes longer and more severe heat waves and extreme weather conditions. On top of that, urban areas such as Los Angeles are prone to high levels of smog. Travelers who are not used to air conditioning might be taken by surprise by the extreme differences in temperature between buildings and outdoor areas. Although it may sound silly, it makes lots of sense to bring a sweater when you enter a shopping mall or a public building in the summer in order to not catch a cold.
Health and Safety on Camping and Hiking Trips
Above, we have already mentioned the outbreak of rabies in various states. But wild and poisonous animals might also pose a risk to travelers. Aside from rattlesnakes, alligators, and coyotes, bears are very common in some regions of the country.
Before you embark on your travels, try to gather information about the area you are about to visit. Will you encounter dangerous animals there? Are there precautions you can take? In most cases, it is enough to simply avoid certain areas and pay attention to warning signs. In other cases, a trusted guide can help you to stay safe (when venturing through the Louisiana swamps for instance). If you are hiking in bear country, it is important to keep your food out of reach of bears and keep bear spray close by.
Travel Health Insurance for the USA
The US health system offers a lot of high-quality services all over the country. Thus, you will be taken care of, should you ever get sick during your visit to the United States. Unfortunately, the costs of healthcare are exceptionally high and some doctors might even turn you away if you do not show proof of proper health insurance (even if your home country has a social security agreement with the US).
For this reason, it is important that you are covered for the duration of your trip. It should include not only emergency medical services, but also the return transport in case of severe injury or death, and 24/7 administrative support. There are many providers of travel health insurance out there. Before you pick one of them, find out if they cover the United States (some policies exclude this country deliberately due to the high healthcare costs), which services are included in the policy, and if you have to cover a part of the costs yourself.
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