Tang's Travel Mavens

Journeying to an Exotic Locale for Research or for Pleasure? Pay the Travel Clinic a Visit.

by Marie Felde

Standing ankle deep in the red mud of an Argentine rain forest last month, I batted away a fog of persistent mosquitoes with some consolation. "At least," I told my husband, "we're not in the malaria-risk part of the country."

"And," I announced for no particular reason except that it sounded reassuring, "our yellow fever shots are still working. They're good for 10 years."

I knew these important tidbits because at the invitation of the University Health Service I visited its International Travel Care clinic before I left on vacation.

Peggy Brennan, who with Helen Noorthoek are the two nurses who staff this specialty clinic, had a detailed health summary ready for me when I arrived at the Tang Center clinic last December.

A printout from Travax, a commercial service that provides weekly updates on immunization needs, and the latest traveler's information from the Centers for Disease Control are part of the services the clinic offers to students, faculty and staff.

The clinic provides prescriptions for needed immunizations and medications, which may be obtained at the Tang Center or through Kaiser or private doctors, depending on a client's own health insurance.

Health services has been offering immunizations for many years, but began the special travel service in the late '80s as demand grew for specialized information.

"We are swamped in the spring with all the education abroad students going to developing countries," said Brennan. Often, she said, the clinic will get a call from a group or department sending several students overseas.

"I don't think we've missed too many places," she said. Asked which countries they pay particular attention to, she replied, "Africa and India tend to be the most risky."

The most common concerns of soon-to-be travelers are about how to avoid intestinal troubles and the risk of malaria, she said. "Some say, whatever I need, give it to me. Others don't want anything that isn't required," said Brennan.

"Our advice is just that. There are really very few requirements," she said. Yellow fever immunizations and occasionally cholera shots are about the only things that are required by some countries.

"A lot of our students travel a lot. Those who have come in know what they need. Usually it's malaria pills and gamma globulin," she said.

For those who don't know, Brennan and Noorthoek are there to advise. With a personal health history and travel itinerary in hand, they plug into the Travex computer service to get the most up-to-date information. They also scan the newspapers to follow overseas health concerns.

Last fall, with reports of plague in India, the clinic prescribed tetracycline as a precaution. "We did have some people going there then," said Brennan.

With students and researchers heading to remote spots, the travelers themselves become information sources. "We ask them to drop us a postcard or come by when they get back to give us tips that could be helpful to others," said Brennen. The clinic's phone is 642-2970.

While Noorthoek is widely traveled, Brennen said she's stayed close to home raising her four children. "Sometimes I do get a case of the envies." At least she does get to travel vicariously.

"We get short notice of things happening from the people coming in, like when a volcano is about to erupt. And, we helped the group that went to Ethiopia with (physical anthropologist) Tim White. Those kinds of things make this job fun and exciting," she said.


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