Medical Care & Prescriptions
Pre-Departure Medical Care
Plan to see your doctor for a routine physical prior to going on your program. Also, make an appointment with your dentist to take care of any known problems or routine care before you travel. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, take an extra pair of each along with a copy of your eyeglass prescription, just in case.
Immunizations and the Duke Student Health International Travel Clinic
Because of specific health concerns and conditions in various countries, you may be required to show proof that you have received certain vaccinations or immunizations in order to enter your host country. In such instances, you must carry an official record of your immunizations and present this record to immigration officials, along with your passport and any required visas. Please note that if you plan personal travel to other countries before, during, or after your program (if allowed), it is your individual responsibility to know what immunizations are required. Immunization requirements and other travel health information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Infectious diseases, immunizations, and other health considerations such as sun protection, drinking water, jet lag, and traveler’s diarrhea are all things you need to consider and prepare for well in advance of travel. Be sure that your tetanus vaccination is current and that you have had the current flu and COVID-19 vaccines. Other vaccines to consider:
- Hepatitis A & Typhoid: You cannot always be sure that food handlers have washed their hands properly or that your water source is clean.
- Hepatitis B: Exposure to blood or body fluids can happen in vehicular accidents, sexual encounters, or unsterile needles/instruments in doctor’s offices and tattoo shops.
- Malaria Prevention: See the CDC’s website or call the Duke Student Health International Travel Clinic (919-681-9355) for country-specific information.
Duke students requiring or desiring immunizations should schedule an appointment with the Duke Student Health International Travel Clinic at least eight to twelve weeks prior to departure. Some immunizations and boosters may require intervals between injections, and during peak seasons (November and April) appointment availability may be limited and it may take up to six weeks to get an appointment. Please note that you may schedule your initial visit even before you know your final destination.
The Duke Student Health Fee covers advice and consultation at the Duke Student Health International Travel Clinic. Immunizations and prescription medicines are not covered by the Student Health Fee and must be purchased or filed against insurance. Students are responsible for paying any uncovered costs on their own. For more information about the services provided by the Duke Student Health International Travel Clinic, please visit their website.
Required Antibody Testing
Some countries may require HIV antibody tests before international travelers are permitted into the country. Testing is usually required for long-term stays only, and a doctor’s certificate showing the negative results of the HIV antibody test is normally sufficient proof of testing. Please check with your study abroad program administrator or your host country’s local embassy or consulate for details. You should be sure to allow yourself two weeks for the testing process.
Medical Care Abroad
Your faculty leaders or in-country support staff should provide information about local health care facilities (both routine and emergency) during your in-country orientation. In some program locations, there may be a clinic available to treat visiting international students. Regardless, you should be sure to know what to do should you need medical attention while abroad. If you are unsure, ask your faculty leaders. You may also contact International SOS for referrals.
Your faculty leaders or in-country support staff should also be able to help you contact the appropriate physician or other medical authorities if needed. To help facilitate a prompt and efficient response to any medical problem that may arise, many programs will ask you to provide them with a medical history, which can then be passed on to those qualified personnel who may be called upon to treat you. Therefore, being forthcoming about your medical history is in your best interest, as program administrators cannot assist you in locating the appropriate services if they are unaware of your condition.
During weekend, pre-, or post-program personal travel (if permitted), you may find yourself in unfamiliar and possibly remote locations. If you are not fluent in the language of the host country, seek out an English-speaking doctor if you need medical attention – do not take any chances on a breakdown in communications. If needed, you should reach out to International SOS for a referral. American embassies and consulates, some large travel agencies, and a number of the larger hotels abroad should also have lists of English-speaking physicians.
Blood Screening Abroad
While many countries have mandatory screening of donated blood for HIV and other viruses, not all do. Travelers should inquire at the local Red Cross office, Western embassies, and/or with International SOS about safe sources of blood overseas. In some locales, ascertaining the availability of HIV-screened blood and blood products may be difficult. Because of obvious uncertainties, if you are injured or ill while abroad, try to avoid or postpone any blood transfusion unless it is necessary. If you do need blood, try to ensure that screened blood is used.
Be advised that in some foreign countries health care workers will reuse even disposable equipment, such as needles and syringes. If injection is required, you can buy needles and syringes and bring them to the hospital for your own use. Avoid injections unless necessary. If injections are required, make sure the needles and syringes come straight from a package and have been properly sterilized. When in doubt, ask to see how the equipment has been sterilized. Caution regarding instrument sterilization applies to all instruments that pierce the skin, including tattooing, acupuncture, ear piercing, dental work, etc.
The CDC recommends that “diabetics or other persons who require routine or frequent injections should carry a supply of syringes and needles sufficient to last their stay abroad.” It is common to bring needles for your own use. However, be aware that carrying needles and syringes without a prescription may be illegal in some countries. Take a note from your doctor if you do need to carry needles and syringes. Some countries also have needles and syringes for sale.
Students visiting the Duke Student Health International Travel Clinic for immunizations related to travel in high-risk areas may also request a small supply of sterile needles for emergency use abroad. A prescription for the needles will also be provided.
For further information, consult the CDC and/or the World Health Organization.
Prescription Medications Abroad
If you need to take prescription medication with you abroad, be sure to go through the following checklist for each type of medicine you plan to carry. Per International SOS:
- Gather an ample supply to last your entire trip, with a few spares if possible.
- Keep all drugs in their original packaging.
- Contact your host-country’s embassy and/or International SOS to determine whether any drugs on your list are restricted in your destination(s). The International Narcotics Control Board is another resource to determine any medicinal restrictions. For example, if you will travel to China, contact the Chinese embassy or consulate in your home country and ask about medication restrictions.
- Make a copy of the prescription, if it is a prescription drug. Make sure the prescription mentions the generic name of the medication and not just the brand name.
- Have your healthcare provider write a note describing the medicine and its purpose. It is best to get this on letterhead paper.
- Translate the note into English and the language of your destination(s).
- Also, be sure you know the generic names of any medicines you may take, as certain brands may not be available in your host destination(s). If you take regular injections and need to carry syringes, carry a separate prescription for the syringes.
Carry essential medications with you while traveling and do not place them in checked baggage.
Do not have medications shipped to you, as this may be illegal in your host country, and/or may cause problems with customs officials.