Travel doctors available on the fly in D.C. area

Travel doctors available on the fly in D.C. area

While Molly Pelzer prepared for a mission to El Salvador, a friend suggested visiting a travel medicine clinic to ensure she was properly vaccinated. Now, the Frederick member couldn’t imagine traveling overseas without visiting a travel doctor. “I’d probably go there before my primary care physician,” Pelzer says.

Pelzer went to highly rated Dr. Michael Sauri at the Travel Advisory and Immunization Clinic in Rockville about six weeks before her trip. They administered a hepatitis A vaccination and gave her pills to ward off malaria, along with pamphlets covering potential health hazards in El Salvador.

Travel medicine clinics aren’t yet commonplace in the D.C. area, but Susan Wallace, executive director of Arlington-based Capitol Travel Medicine, says her 10-year-old practice faces more competition than ever. “We were kind of a unique clinic when we first opened,” says Wallace, who works with highly rated Dr. Tanya Chadwell. She says the area’s diverse population and abundance of government travelers and international aid workers bolster the local relevance of clinics specializing in shots for travel.

Dr. Ziad Akl, who works at highly rated Washington Travel Clinic in the District, says her clinic provides details on international vaccination needs using information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. “We specialize in determining which vaccines and preventive measures are needed for which country,” he says. For example, Chadwell says she recommends hepatitis A and typhoid fever vaccines for trips to the “developing world,” including Central and South America and parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

When patients make an appointment, Akl asks about their itinerary, as well as medical conditions or allergies. Bolivia, Ghana and Nigeria require all international travelers to have the yellow fever vaccine, and Akl adds that Saudi Arabia requires proof of the meningitis vaccine for those going to Mecca, a common Muslim pilgrimage. Chadwell adds that some countries will quarantine travelers or deny them entry if they arrive without the required vaccine documentation.

Practicing travel medicine doesn’t require a special license, but the International Society of Travel Medicine offers a Certificate in Travel Health. Practitioners must pass an exam and earn credits through ongoing education to maintain certification. Treatment costs vary, depending on needs. Chadwell says Capitol Travel Medicine, an ISTM member, charges $90 for a hepatitis A vaccination, $75 for a typhoid vaccine and $65 for a tetanus shot. Akl and Chadwell say most insurers won’t cover travel-related vaccines, because they’re considered elective, though some may. “We provide a detailed billing sheet with insurance codes on it so a person can file a claim,” Chadwell says.

In most cases, patients require only one visit, but some vaccines require multiple appointments. For example, Akl says he gives two hepatitis A vaccinations six months apart for those with destinations in India and much of Africa. He suggests making an appointment as soon as you book overseas travels. “Very few people plan that far ahead,” he says, “but vaccines take time to work.”

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