Traveling With HIV
For people with HIV, travel can pose specific risks. According to the CDC, travel, especially to developing countries, can increase the risk of contracting opportunistic infections. These infections are referred to as opportunistic because a person's weakened immune system gives the infection the opportunity to develop. The risk varies according to the CD4 cell count. People at highest risk are those with a CD4 cell count of less than 200 per cubic millimeter or a history of an AIDS-related illness.
Special precautions that should be taken if you are traveling with HIV include the following:
Consult your doctor or a travel medicine expert as early as possible about the health risks that exist in the areas you plan to visit. Your doctor can offer suggestions about staying healthy in places where certain illnesses may pose special threats. Ask for names of doctors who treat HIV in the regions you plan to visit.
During travel to developing countries, people infected with HIV are at a much higher risk for food and waterborne disease than they are in the United States. Take extra precautions to avoid any uncooked foods, and make sure all water is either boiled or bottled.
Traveler's diarrhea is a common problem. Carry a 3- to 7-day supply of medicine to treat it. Consult your doctor for more information on appropriate medication for you.
Waterborne infections may also result from swallowing or even being exposed to some bodies of water during recreational activities. Reduce your risk of these infections by being careful not to swallow water while swimming, and to avoid swimming or wading in water that may be contaminated.
Take precautions against insect-borne diseases in areas where this is a problem. Use insect repellents with DEET and mosquito-netting treated with permethrin while sleeping in areas where malaria, dengue fever, or other insect-borne diseases are prevalent. People with HIV infections are urged to avoid areas where yellow fever is found.
Tuberculosis is very common worldwide and can be very serious in people with HIV. Avoid hospitals and clinics where tuberculosis patients are treated and be sure to be tested when you return to the United States.
Take all medications as prescribed by your doctor. Make sure you bring enough to last throughout your trip and written prescriptions for refills in case of emergency.
If you are on a special diet, adhere to your meal plan as much as possible while traveling.
Take all of the same precautions that you take at home to prevent transmitting HIV to others.
Immunization information for persons with HIV
Ask your doctor about special vaccinations that may be necessary before you travel. Make sure all of your routine immunizations are up-to-date. This is especially important for children with HIV who are traveling.
There are other special considerations regarding vaccinations. In general, killed virus vaccines are safe for people with HIV; however, they may not have optimal effectiveness when CD4 cell counts are very low. Live virus vaccines should be avoided by people with advanced HIV and low CD4 cell counts. Certain diseases pose special risks, so review your itinerary thoroughly with your doctor to assess areas that may be dangerous to visit.
Consult your doctor or the CDC for more information regarding specific immunizations you may need before you travel.
- Bowers, Nancy, RN, BSN, MPH
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician